For the last six years we have opened a winter night shelter on Tuesday evenings in the Churchrooms as part of the Swansea Hope initiative in the city.
The idea is a simple and effective one. Seven different Churches open their buildings for one night a week. Teams of volunteers undergo training and run the shelter in shifts. Cooks and their helpers prepare hearty meals for up to twelve guests who are given a warm welcome and a safe place to sleep.
Homelessness is a very real problem for our society. The government estimates that there are over 4,500 people sleeping on the streets of our cities and towns in England and Wales, an increase in over a hundred percent during the last five years. But the charity ‘Crisis’ claims that the problem is actually much worse. Their research suggests that there are around 24,000 people sleeping rough, in tents, on public transport or sofa surfing in the homes of family and friends.
Agencies cite a number of reasons for this dramatic rise. More people are struggling with drug and alcohol addiction; family breakdown; mental health problems; with debt; and difficulty in accessing benefits, especially since the introduction of ‘Universal Credit’.
These have been some of the issues facing the guests we have welcomed into the Swansea Hope Night Shelter over the last few years. I think of a steelworker in his fifties who had been made redundant and defaulted on his rent payments; an asylum seeker from the Middle East, with a Masters in Engineering, desperate to make a life here and to contribute to the UK; dozens of young people attempting to break free from drug or alcohol addiction; and a pensioner who was made homeless because his top up benefits simply weren’t enough to meet his rent and living costs.
This winter the Welsh Government has made funds available to take all rough sleepers off the streets and to place them in temporary bed and breakfast accommodation. It’s an initiative that will undoubtedly have saved lives. Though this is to be greatly welcomed it does not really address the root causes of homelessness.
This is where local agencies and the Swansea Hope Night Shelter come into their own. They come alongside those who are desperate to turn their lives around. It connects them to the people who can give them the professional and medical help they need and to our team of volunteers.
The shelter is one part of a range of services offering a window of opportunity to those who want to come off the streets. They are given help to break free from their drug and alcohol addiction; they have to turn up to register for the shelter each day; engage with local agencies; and they are expected to be at the access point to catch a taxi to the shelter at the same time every evening. Having boundaries, sleeping in the warm, being served good hearty food by people who treat them with love and respect really does make a difference.
The Swansea Hope Night Shelter shuts at the end of this month. Once again, the partners we work with are hopeful that all of our guests will have found a place to call their own by then.
But the problem of homelessness remains a real challenge for our society. Here, in Swansea, local agencies and Churches are helping to make a difference. I am so grateful to our wonderful team of volunteers and our co-ordinator for all that they do in this important ministry of outreach.
Christians have a heart for the poor because Jesus had a heart for them. In Matthew’s Gospel our Lord tells us that when we love the disadvantaged we love him. In one of the most challenging passages in the New Testament, he says, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” [Mat 25.35-40]
We are not going to solve the problem of homelessness or its root causes overnight. But what we have been privileged to be part of in the Swansea Hope Night Shelter is helping to make a very real difference to people’s lives by offering them a helping hand up.
With every blessing,