Huge rise in people using winter Church and Community Night Shelters

Volunteer projects provide hospitality for almost 3000 guests as homelessness crisis mounts

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During winter 2016/17 more people than ever before were forced to use  church and community night shelters , according to research published by housing and homelessness charity Housing Justice today.  

Projects in the Housing Justice Church and Community Night Shelter Network provided emergency accommodation to almost three thousand (2923) people experiencing homelessness during the winter of 2016/17, an increase of 53% on the previous year’s figure (and double the number of people receiving support in 2012).

Church and Community night shelters are voluntary led projects, encompassing people of all faiths and none who staff emergency shelters during the winter period to provide emergency accommodation for people with nowhere else to go. Guests are provided with a camp bed, bedding and a hot meal, usually in a church building, community building or other faith building. Most receive no funding from government or local authorities.

During the winter of 2016/17 on average, each shelter remained open for 102 nights, 40% of guests stayed in the shelter for less than a week, while 30 % stayed longer than a month.

Of the 53 community-based projects who were able contribute data for the year, each hosted an average of 55 people experiencing homelessness - if this ratio were replicated across the full network of Church and Community Night Shelter Projects across the country, it would equate to approximately 6,000 (projected figure 5,885). Just two years ago, this figure stood at 3,640 guests across 65 shelters, showing significant growth in the network’s capacity.

Underpinning this huge rise in guests at night shelters is the significant rise in rough sleepers since 2011, (134%) owing to issues such as welfare reform and the ending of a tenancy in the private rented sector.

As demand grows church and community night shelters are undergoing a rapid expansion; two years ago, there were 65 shelters operating in the network. Today, there are 107 projects in the Housing Justice Network. 

Throughout the year, the network saw contributions from 4,284 volunteers across the country, contributing a total of 273,605 hours. This equates to an average of 6,673 hours per shelter, representing a significant investment from each community.

Kathy Mohan, Chief Executive of Housing Justice said;

“Today’s figures show that the housing crisis is becoming a homelessness crisis with such a significant rise in the numbers of people being forced to sleep on camp beds in church halls up and down the country .

Typically guests staying in night shelters will not be recorded in street-counts and official measures of homelessness. Street rough sleeping, and potentially street fatalities would be higher without these incredible projects and their volunteers.

Tonight and throughout the winter, thousands of people will put in a shift at their local shelter to give hospitality to those experiencing homelessness. We commend the exceptional work of these shelter projects and the compassionate, professional way they provide hospitality.

But these appalling numbers must be a wake up call to local authorities and to the government that a significant number of people are relying on voluntary services for that most basic of essentials, shelter.

The government must take note of the work grassroots projects are carrying out and work with them to achieve better outcomes for guests in night shelters. Most of all the government should look urgently at what can be done to support these projects, increase bed spaces and plan more sustainable housing solutions for night shelter guests”