Statistics from Shelter suggest that there were approximately 280,000 people recorded as homeless in the UK as of December 2019. We know the reasons for homelessness are complex, but there is clearly a biblical and historical Christian mandate to care for the stranger, widow, orphan and most vulnerable in society. Churches that, together, take this call seriously are participating in the mission of God.
King’s Lynn Winter Night Shelter
A fantastic example of churches coming together to provide accommodation comes from the King’s Lynn Winter Night Shelter. It was established as a registered charity in 2017 by a group of church leaders from Churches Together in King’s Lynn, and is usually open seven nights a week for five months of the year (end of October to the end of March).
King’s Lynn is relatively small compared with the cities in which other shelters have been operating, but there has been an increasing need for homelessness facilities in recent years. The town is situated between Norfolk’s “sunshine coast” of holiday homes and the working arable landscape of the Fens, and combines historic architecture and arts festivals with areas of poverty and deprivation (among the top 3% on the Index of Multiple Deprivation for England). There are also a significant number of migrant workers, mostly from Eastern Europe. Homelessness tends to be hidden, and a symptom of other factors such as family breakdown, poor mental health, alcohol or substance misuse, unemployment or immigration issues.
In this context, the Night Shelter has welcomed around 100 homeless men and women as guests each winter.
Guests at the Night Shelter arrive as self-referrals or are referred by other agencies. The Night Shelter will accept anyone over the age of 18 if they can do so safely and they have nowhere else safe to stay.
The shelter is staffed by a year-round co-ordinator, six seasonal staff, and over a hundred volunteers. They provide a hot meal (all from donated food), a bed for the night, laundry facilities and showers, breakfast, a “listening ear” and access to ongoing support.
Here is some of the feedback from their 2019 guests:
“You made me feel positive and I can’t thank you enough”.
“It’s all been so so good and I hope this time next year I will be in a better place so I can come back and help”.
Brent Shelter of Sanctuary
Another example comes from Brent Shelter of Sanctuary in London. The Brent Multi Faith Forum (BMFF) was formed almost 20 years ago, and allows for encounters to happen and relationships to develop among people of different religions and spiritualities. Their shelter offers up to fifteen bed spaces in faith and community centres each night for men experiencing homelessness in Brent.
The shelter’s emphasis on supporting migrant homelessness provided an opportunity for BMFF and the diverse faith communities in Brent to come together to collectively respond to this crisis in a proactive and ‘radically hospitable’ way.
The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Housing Commission
The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Housing Commission, launched in February 2021, is undertaking a considerable piece of work as an ecumenical group. Bringing together academics, housing experts and theologians, the Commission looks at how to provide good quality affordable housing and cut the rising tide of homelessness.
“A good home is a place that enables us to live in harmony with the natural environment; it is a place where we feel safe; it enables us to put down roots and belong to a community; it is a place we enjoy living in and delight to come home to.” – an excerpt from the Commission’s Coming Home report.
Read the story of how churches in Keswick are coming together to provide affordable housing (a story featured in the Coming Home report.)