More than 800 volunteers have signed up to help out on in shelters in Manchester, Salford, Birmingham, Mansfield and Great Yarmouth as the number of rough sleepers increased ten fold in just six years.
The joint venture between the Church Urban Fund and Church of England dioceses shows that churches are doing more than ever before this winter to help alleviate the growing homelessness crisis.
Rev Ellie Trimble, one of the Manchester clergy helping run the scheme, said: “As a Christian we are called to look after those who are vulnerable, to seek them out and serve them, just as Jesus did.”
When she was a student in Manchester she used to walk past a homeless man called Dave every day. “It was unusual because you didn’t really see many people back then, 20 years ago.”
“There’s a really entrenched community of homeless people that we just can’t reach. It’s a huge crisis, a huge crisis for everybody, and as Christians we need to respond to that,” she says in a podcast for the Church. “We all have a responsibility to look after those people in our communities who are on the fringes, vulnerable.”
In Manchester and Salford, a night shelter offering 12 beds for seven nights a week will double the length of time it operates to six months when it opens at the end of this month.
The shelter, across seven locations, will offer 24-hour care to homeless guests including an evening meal, bed and breakfast, and advice and support during the day. Organisations such as the Christian homelessness charity Housing Justice are also involved.
The expansion in support from Christian groups this winter comes after the number of people counted as rough sleepers on one night in Manchester rose to 70 last year compared to seven in 2010.
Lily Axworthy, of Greater Together Manchester, said there is now a “crisis situation” in the city.
“The night shelters are more than just somewhere to sleep, they are about hospitality and service,” she said. “Homeless people are welcome as guests, and all, including volunteers, sit down for an evening meal together.”
In Birmingham, a winter night shelter with 14 churches acting as hosts will open from January to March offering 12 beds a night and supported by around 400 volunteers.
Mansfield Winter Night Shelter in Nottingham will open in early December along with a new project, The Living Room, based in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk .
Canon Paul Hackwood of the Church Urban Fund said: “We know that helping homeless people and rough sleepers is not a simple task and involves so much more than a bed for the night. But this is a vital start in the process of repairing broken relationships and being alongside those in need to help them take control of their lives. We are so grateful to the huge number of volunteers from churches and elsewhere who are part of the team helping to make this happen.”