The Shelter Project Hounslow (TSPH) was launched in January 2012 and brought together churches across the borough of Hounslow to provide respite care for rough sleepers over the harshest months of the winter, initially operating from January to March. Since then the project has grown as the need for respite and longer-term support was realised and the number of volunteers grew to enable an increased vision.
The aim is now aiming to open for four months from the beginning of December to the end of March each year, funding permitting. Twelve churches are actively involved in opening their churches at night with others sending volunteers to help at other churches. The scheme operates on a seven church model, so that one church opens up each evening to provide hot meals, overnight accommodation, and breakfast for up to 14 homeless men. The shelters open from 8 pm until 8 am the next morning. Volunteers work in shifts to cook and serve supper, spend time in conversation with guests, give overnight supervision, and serve breakfast before the guests depart for the day.
All overnight guests are referred from other agencies and are deemed to have low to medium needs. The project is unable to accept those with serious addictions, behaviour patterns or health problems. All potential guests are interviewed, and acceptance of a place is conditional on the willingness to conform to certain conditions and expectations. At their discretion, churches often admit additional guests on a ‘meal only’ basis. TSPH also endeavours to provide emergency shelter for a few men during periods of extreme cold (SWEP)
Each church has its coordinators who are responsible for the weekly running of their shelter – finding volunteers, providing the meals and providing oversight on the night of their shelter. The Project Coordinator is expected to make regular visits to each shelter and provide support and advice but is not expected to be in constant attendance or take on the organising role in any individual shelter.
Before and after season meetings are held with all coordinators to share ideas and good practice. During the season good communication between the Project Coordinator and all Church Coordinators is essential to the efficient and safe running of the shelters.
A Project Caseworker supports the work of the Coordinator for part of the season working specifically with each of the registered homeless men to support them in finding longer-term accommodation, jobs or in accessing health or financial services and advice. TSPH also works alongside other agencies and charities working with the homeless in London.
The Project is overseen by a Management Group and Trustees who are responsible for all policies and their implementation, fundraising etc. This group meets regularly throughout the year and works closely with the Project Coordinator, providing support and advice.
Funding is from grants and by voluntary donation, through the generosity of the local churches involved, personal donations, and support from the local council, local business, and charitable groups. Where appropriate grants have been applied for which has enabled many of the longer term aims to be addressed. The project was awarded charity of the year at the 2013 Hounslow Volunteering Awards.
This ecumenical project has its roots firmly in the desire to extend God’s love to all.
Homelessness in the UK is on the rise and can happen to anyone in these days of global economic uncertainty. Volunteers have found the experience deeply enriching, chiefly because it was an opportunity for God’s people to unite and extend the love of Christ in meaningful action.