Homelessness: Churches help thousands each winter, study finds

More than 2,000 people will be welcomed into church-run night shelters across the UK this winter, a new report says.

Rev Lucy Winkett, Rector at St James' Piccadilly, joined a fundraising sleepout organised by West London Mission in October. West London Mission

Published by Christian homelessness charity Housing Justice, the study of church and community night shelters shows that 2,171 homeless guests were accommodated in 500 venues last winter with a similar number or more expected this winter.

The Church and Community Night Shelter Network Impact Report shows volunteers invested 231,000 hours of time to help run the shelters, which if given a financial value, would amount to more than £3 million. Thirty-nine per cent of guests received help to make a move into their own accommodation.

Rt Rev James Langstaff, Bishop of Rochester and Chair of Housing Justice, said: "The I am deeply grateful to those volunteers who give of themselves providing not only food and shelter but a love of the neighbour. The role of churches at the heart of the projects shows the quiet, committed service, offered to the vulnerable, as an expression of love and discipleship."

The shelters typically run between November and March and involve groups of churches, community groups and places of worship of different faiths and denominations, each taking a designated night of the week to provide shelter on their premises to between 12 and 35 guests. Each shelter provides an evening meal and a bed for the night, and breakfast in the morning.

According to Housing Justice, Westminster Churches and Synagogue Winter Night Shelter has grown from six to 13 churches and one synagogue participating and runs this season from the beginning of October until the end of May.

The shelter takes 15 guests who are referred from the West London Day Centre with a waiting list to fill places when people leave. Last year, more than 55 people were given shelter with 35 rehoused during the shelter period. Around 10 to 12 volunteers work on the project every night.

One of the churches taking part, St James' Piccadilly, houses guest inside the body of the church. Peter Mwaniki, coordinator of the shelter, said: "Quite a few have spoken of how they sleep close to the altar in St James' and how peaceful they feel going to sleep when the last thing they see before they close their eyes is Christ and the first thing they see when they wake up is Christ."

Alison Gelder, chief executive of Housing Justice, said: "I think it is vital that churches from across the whole church stand in the gaps left by statutory services as well as arguing and campaigning for those services to be improved or even for funding to be restored.

"As we approach Christmas, as a Christian charity, we believe shelter users are all marked with the imprint of God. So in around 500 churches over the next couple of weeks, homeless people will be welcomed in alongside the carols and mince pies and arguably representing something much closer to the original nativity than plaster statues of shepherds and kings."