A WINTER night shelter for Hillingdon’s homeless will open in Uxbridge this week, as national homelessness figures rise for the third consecutive year.
The night shelter, to be based at St Andrew’s Church, will house between eight and ten vulnerable men currently sleeping rough in the borough.
The scheme has been provided by the council for the past eight years but will be managed for the first time this year by St Mungo’s Community Housing Association.
St Mungo’s has more than 40 years' experience working with London’s homeless and vulnerable people, and houses around 1,900 people every night.
Cliff Dymond, St Mungo’s area manager for West London, said: “The people at the church have been really fabulous and the council has been really helpful.”
In the six weeks the shelter will be open, St Mungo’s will look to move its guests to more stable accommodation, and to develop their support network through using local experience, knowledge and services.
“If someone is sleeping rough, what they haven’t got in their lives is support," said Mr Dymond.
“It’s really tough to watch people suffering, and what we do as an organisation is to try to give people a bit of hope and a leg-up.
“Homeless people traditionally really struggle to access mainstream services, so if we can act as that conduit then I think we should be doing that.”
Homelessness is a growing problem across the UK, particularly in London and the South East, due to the shortage and high cost of housing, combined with cuts to housing benefits.
An independent study published this month by homeless charity Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, found that 9% of adults in England have been homeless, the highest in the UK.
The study identifies a housing ‘pressure cooker’, with rough sleeping rising this year by 6% - 13% in London - pushing the two-year increase in the capital to more than 60%.
“Homelessness is deemed to be one of the most complex problems to solve because you’re going back years and years,” said Mr Dymond.
“It could be that we get people coming to the shelter who have been sleeping out for the best part of their adult life. That’s a really complex issue. How do you pick people apart? How do you put them back together?
“What we actually want to do is put interventions in place that enable people to progress, and when the winter shelter closes they feel like they’ve made some movement in their lives.”
As well as providing an overnight bed and meals, St Mungo’s will liaise with local services to offer health care, including medical screenings and more specialist services, like alcohol and drugs counselling.
In the past two years, Hillingdon Council has run the scheme in conjunction with specialist agencies. Last year, the shelter was managed by the Uxbridge-based homeless charity, Trinity.
Eoin Donnelly, housing director for Trinity, said: “We have witnessed the selfless generosity and companionship of volunteers as well as the transformation of those socially excluded. The history of the night shelter has shown there is a need for this service.”
Operating alongside the trained St Mungo’s staff will be a team of volunteers, to help prepare meals and provide evening activities.
“We’ve had people that are trained cooks, people that want to come and make the packed lunches, people coming in to do activities, people who just want to come in and be friendly,” said Mr Dymond.
“People’s time is a great thing, but if people have a skill they think the guests might be interested in, that’s always really helpful. That skill could be absolutely anything.” A great deal of work is already being done to help support vulnerable people in the borough.
St Margaret’s Church in Uxbridge hosts a food bank once a week, while St Andrew’s has a regular soup kitchen and Christ Church, also in Uxbridge, operates a day centre.
“There’s a lot going on already and what we want to do is complement and supplement that, not knock it down or dismantle it,” said Mr Dymond.
“We want to be part of that community, even if we’re only there for a short period of time. We want to be part of that.”
For more information on how to support St Mungo’s this winter, visit: www.mungos.org