Friday, 15 March 2013

Winter Night Shelter

I've been neglecting this blog something terrible, but let's see if I can do a little better. I recently did a series of night shifts at the Winter Night Shelter, which is in its second year of operation in Birmingham.

It's an idea which started in London, to use church buildings to provide emergency accomodation during the cold weather. There's no real emergency night shelter in Birmingham, and we have, at the best estimate, around 300 rough sleepers in the city on any given night. Homelessness is increasing in Britain, and given the government's determination to cut and keep cutting essential support for the poor, the number can only increase.

Last year we had a pilot scheme offering ten beds for men, for four weeks. By the end of the time, it was running pretty well, and we had hoped it could run for three months this year. It got delayed, and in the end, only six weeks were possible. It uses a different church each night of the week, with the clients being picked up from the city centre. They have to be approved in advance, as not every volunteer would be able to cope with someone drunk or disturbed. Alcohol is banned. This year six churches were involved, so it only ran for six nights out of the week. I've been helping at the local Baptist church, on Thursdays.

We were providing for ten men again, using cheap inflatable mattresses which were becoming unreliable. I was staying up for half the night, then taking a turn getting some sleep; the first week I had a well inflated mattress, the second I ended up sleeping on several chairs put together, as we couldn't find the pump, and the third I was balancing on a semi-inflated, leaking thing like a wobbly blancmange. Fortunately years of climbing and mountaineering have left me able to sleep on anything that doesn't actually stick into me.

People are sometimes quite apprehensive about this sort of work, but the clients are always perfectly pleasant people. In two years there's only been one minor incident, when someone had been drinking earlier in the day, and vomited on the floor. I'm well aware from previous experience that there are some badly messed up people out there, who can easily end up homeless, but anyone like that gets filtered out before they get to us. I once had a client who had been banned from every hostel in Birmingham (literally) for violence, usually against staff. In the end, he had to leave the accommodation I was involved in after attacking me when he lost a game of pool against someone else. I encountered him again recently; he couldn't face me, but he seems to have settled down. Twenty years can make all the difference to anyone!

No comments:

Post a Comment