Creating a place of hospitality and community for the homeless

Birmingham Churches Winter Night Shelter, supported by Church Urban Fund, provides emergency accommodation, food and support to homeless guests over the coldest months of winter

The Facebook page tells some of the story. An entry records the joy of knowing that one of the guests has found accommodation – “Last night, one of the guests leaned over and whispered “I’m in” – He has a place in a hostel and won’t have to go back to the streets.” Another post asks for prayers for a man, Tomas, who has been turned away as the shelter is full. In another, a guest who was a champion table tennis player in his own home country is pictured playing a table tennis coach who volunteers for work at the shelter.

Birmingham Churches Winter Night Shelter, hosted by 14 churches in the city, opened its doors in January and is due to close at the start of next month having provided 12 bed spaces over this period to a largely stable group of guests many of whom have ‘no recourse to public funds’. While the shelter is open to anyone who is considered ‘low risk’, many are European migrants who came to Britain for work, often seasonal, and found themselves destitute. Homelessness has dramatically worsened in Birmingham with the rough sleeper count rising from nine people in 2010 to 55 last autumn. Many campaigners have said they believed the official rough sleeper figures released annually are an underestimate.

The shelter works closely with professional organisations and takes referrals from a local charity that supports people experiencing homelessness. Some of the guests have been sleeping rough for several years. Guests and volunteers all sit down and eat together each night and there are activities such as pool, chess and table tennis. Guests are given help to meet longer term needs through support with finding housing and work and by linking them with other services. One guest for example, will be accompanied by volunteers this week in a journey to London to help him to start the process of replacing a lost passport. The shelter is supported by around 400 volunteers with six Anglican churches acting as hosts out of its 14 church venues. A further group of churches and charities provides transport for guests.

Sarah Turner, Development Worker for Thrive Together Birmingham, the Church Urban Fund joint venture with Birmingham Diocese, which supports the shelter, said: “I am always blown away by the response to the shelter – some of the churches end up with far more volunteers than they need. We have one venue that has a really lovely relationship with the local primary school where the school makes cakes and food for the guests. I think it is the most ecumenical project I work on. We hold a service at the end of the year which is a thanksgiving for everything that everybody has done and to pray for the guests and all those experiencing homelessness. We ask the different churches to look after different parts of the service. It is always a beautiful event.”

Birmingham Churches Winter Night Shelter is a collaboration of individuals, churches and charities including Housing Justice

Martha Linden, Archbishops’ Council senior media officer

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