Housing Justice holds first National Night Shelters Conference


More than a hundred people came together on Wednesday to discuss what churches are doing to help meet the need for emergency shelter during the winter.

The start of the new winter shelter season is just around the corner, when churches across the country will open up their buildings  to provide a warm bed, food and hot shower to homeless people who would otherwise sleep out in the cold.

Housing Justice launched a forum for church and community winter shelters in 2003 and has since been involved in the development of over 40 new shelter schemes in London and nationally.

The Christian housing and homelessness charity provides churches interested in or already running shelters with advice, consultancy and training.

The charity's first National Night Shelters Conference on Wednesday brought together representatives of churches, community groups, local authorities, funders, and housing and homelessness organisations. 

Conference delegates heard more about the challenges in addressing rising homelessness rates and what is being done to ensure high standards across night shelters.

Maggie Williams, of the East London Housing Partnership, spoke of "growing needs and shrinking budgets" in her keynote presentation.

"During the severe weather provision, community and faith groups provided 57 per cent of total individual bed nights, some working in partnership with statuary and third sector organisations," she said.

Paul Reily, Housing Justice Shelter Liaison, pointed out that the 1,400 people served by London night shelters last winter "would have been more miserable" and "some of them may not have survived to see the spring".

Housing Justice's director of projects, Alastair Murray, shared more about a new Night Shelter Quality Mark that is being developed to set an achievable benchmark of best practice for churches and community groups to follow.

The quality mark will help to assure funders, insurers and local authorities that shelters are operating safely and effectively for guests, staff, volunteers and the local community.

He said: "No one pretends that a bed on a church floor is an answer to everyone's housing need, but it's a good starting point. Certainly better than sleeping on a park bench or in a shop doorway."