Dismayed By Homelessness In Tunbridge Wells: How Ten Churches Are Working Together To Help
A cross-denominational group of ten churches is providing accommodation and three meals a day for homeless people amid the bitterly cold conditions this winter.
The Tunbridge Wells Churches Winter Shelter, which is now in its sixth year, rotates between eleven church halls across the Kent town.
The shelter, which runs this week until 5 March, provides 12 beds, breakfast, a takeaway lunch and a two course dinner.
But with the help of a support worker, the shelter also helps the 15 homeless people known to sleep rough in Tunbridge Wells find permanent accommodation as well as other practical steps such as registering with a GP.
"We do a rough sleeper count annually and at the last count we found 15 people sleeping rough in Tunbridge Wells, that doesn't take into account the hidden homeless," the project's manager, Wendy Hogg told Christian Today.
"We are well supported by people from the churches in Tunbridge Wells and also from the local community," added Hogg, who has the support of 180 volunteers. "We welcome volunteers from anywhere.
"Virtually no day goes by when someone doesn't ring offering something - a pile of towels or food or something."
But the shelter is about much more than physical provisions.
"It's not just about shelter – it's about helping people move on and find appropriate accommodation," said Hogg. "We have a support worker who works with the homeless and tries to help as the system can be hard to negotiate – knowing how to apply to local hostels, filling in paperwork and so on.
"Our aim is that people are in a better condition than when they came into the shelter. We maybe get them on the housing register, get them registered with a GP – those kind of practical things."
The staff and the team leaders are all Christians from various denominations. "We all work together very well whatever our backgrounds," said Hogg.
"Logistically there is a lot of work because we have to pick everything up and move it the next night. We move around a lot."
The Times of Tunbridge Wells reported that the opening of the shelter this year comes in the wake of an incident demonstrating how vulnerable the homeless are in the area.
Last month a man who was sleeping in a car park found his bedding and clothes had been set alight and destroyed.
The fire brigade and police attended the scene.
The local newspaper reported that the 30-year-old man, who is of Polish descent, has since been provided with new clothing and bedding by members of the public after two local teenagers launched campaigns on social media.
Hogg told the Times of Tunbridge Wells: "The aim is twofold: The first thing is to get rough sleepers off the streets at the coldest time of the year because they can die out there. And you know how cold it has been in the last few days.
"Then we provide them with intensive support so that they can move on when the shelter closes in March. Nine weeks is not always long enough to get people into accommodation so I carry on that work after the shelter closes, all year round until we get a good outcome from that situation."
The project is funded by the Churches for Tunbridge Wells group and also receives a contribution from the borough council.
If you would like to help the Tunbridge Wells Churches Winter Shelter please call 07513 377951 or email firstname.lastname@example.org