When our church opens to the homeless – By Joe Mayo (aged 14)

St Luke's Church HollowayThis guest post is written by Joe Mayo, a 14 year old who regularly volunteers for the Nightshelter at St Luke’s Holloway and who interviewed the Islington Nightshelter Coordinator Mark Brennan.

At Christmas this year, St. Luke’s Church in Holloway is transformed into a temporary ‘Nightshelter’ for the homeless every Saturday night. “The Nightshelter is a circuit of churches”, I am told by Mark Brennan, who runs the scheme, “If I had to describe it in five words I would say: Hospitality, peaceful inclusion, building community.”

In the evening, we open at 7:30pm, to serve a hot meal to and give beds to fifteen. They then sleep there overnight and are given breakfast in the morning. The church is then cleared away again for the service in the morning by about 8:30am.

Different nationalities

“We have a full scope of backgrounds in the guests,” Mark tells me “Last year we had 36 different nationalities! However, we always choose people who would otherwise be sleeping rough. We don’t take anyone under 18, but we have taken a man in his 70’s in the past.” Mark then went on to tell me that they had mainly men using the shelter: “I suspect that the reason for this is that people generally look at women as being more vulnerable and so people generally have more of a tendency to support women primarily.”

Treating people equally

“We do occasionally have problems…but quite rarely. I act as a kind of ‘gatekeeper’ which means that I take all the admissions. I get lots of calls from all kinds of places – Hospitals, prisons, homeless agencies etc. I have to put them through the referral process, because I have to be mindful of who is accepted in order to maintain a nice, peaceful shelter. If I had, say, three or more drinkers, then a clique might begin to form and that can cause problems like antagonism. We try to treat everyone equally. Often, however, I have found that the guests police themselves. When people are offered hospitality like this, they respond to it really well. They appreciate the hospitality and respect what ever their problems. If anyone was kicking off, the tendency is for the guests to tell that person to calm down.”

“There has been huge improvement over the last 10 years. In the 7 years since I started, 14 more London boroughs have signed up to a project similar to ours, bringing the total to 24 so I am very optimistic. The overall budget for all the homeless projects in London alone is over £800,000,000 per year! The problem can definitely be solved. We can all do something and work together to resolve it.”

Working together

It is clear from my interview with Mark that the situation for the homeless in London is definitely improving, however, as Mark said ‘We can all do something and work together to resolve it”, the emphasis being on the word together.

The Nightshelter is currently trying to raise £10,000 for a shower for the guests, and for kitchen equipment to help with the catering. I would like to encourage you to donate to the Nightshelter, because without donations, there is very little that can be done. Even if you only give £5, it can still make a huge difference. You can donate here at: https://mydonate.bt.com/charities/stlukeswestholloway

If you have any ideas for fundraisers, please email: daniel.northamjones@gmail.com

Happy New Year!

Joe Mayo is currently in year 9 at school and enjoys learning about computer technology, physics and chemistry.

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8 Responses to When our church opens to the homeless – By Joe Mayo (aged 14)

  1. John Bavington says:

    Great post! How fantastic to have a 14 year old volunteering for such a project, and writing so confidently about it. The Bradford churches do something similar called “Inn Churches”, where each church hosts homeless people for a week through December, January and February. Delighted to hear that it is going on in other places like St Lukes, Holloway, which I remember well from my days in Barnsbury when we used to take young people to the alternative worship “world service” there.

    • Jon Kuhrt says:

      Thanks John – I met the coordinator of ‘Inn Churches’ at a Housing Justice conference recently and she was great. I was also really encouraged that she said that the whole scheme had really been helped by the work of Ruth Smith and the Livability (formerly Shaftesbury) Community Mission team (who I used to work for). Nice to realise the connection! I hope you are well!

  2. Del Thomas says:

    A lovely post and having just finished a post at our churches night shelter a timely reminder. The guests are great people and I look forward to my Monday shifts with them, we have built up some strong relationships with guests and some of our staff are former guests themselves. We also had a surprise visit from a former guest last night who is having issues with their housing and wants our help. They are just so open and many this year have now started attending church on a Sunday morning.
    Having done 3 street pastoring sessions last night there is still a big problem as despite HARP putting up 16 and us putting up 20 there were still at least 15 others we came across out on the street. Homelessness is such a big issue and often the lives are so complicated that finding a roof is not the right solution. The biggest frustration i have is seeing those who have been housed back on the street as they couldn’t cope and weren’t given the right strategies to cope with having their own house.

    • Jon Kuhrt says:

      Hi Del, yes – on the one hand the homelessness is a lot better than it was 20 years ago in central London but things are definitely getting worse out there across the board. As you quite rightly say, getting a flat is only half the issue – it is how to solve the ‘inner homelessness’ which drives people back out onto the street can be an even bigger challenge.

  3. Stefano Cagnoni says:

    Very informative post, Joe, but I’m a little surprised that the overall budget for the whole of London’s homeless projects is £800 million a year according to the number of noughts you have there. It may be worth checking that fact.

    • Jon Kuhrt says:

      Hi Stefano and thanks for reading and your comment. I will let Joe answer for himself if he wants to but having worked in the ‘homeless industry’ for a long time I would not be that surprised that this size of figure. It is obviously very hard to estimate and I am not sure where Mark Brennan (who Joe was interviewing) got that figure – but when you add up the costs of 24 hour hostels, outreach teams, bed and breakfast costs and other forms of temporary housing the figures do become incredibly large. I used to work in a 140 bed hostel which charged over £200 a week per person to the local authority – so that was £1.5m a year just in one hostel in one borough! It shows the sheer cost (and thats just financial) of homelessness.

      What is important to realise is how broad the ‘homelessness scene’ is. At one end there are big contracts but the churches night shelters are at the other end. They represent incredible value for money – the Westminster Churches Night Shelter that I am involved in via my work with West London Mission does not take a bean of government money and runs on a shoe-string thanks to the goodwill and generosity of the churches and the volunteers who freely give their time.

  4. Joe Mayo says:

    Hi Stephano! I have checked that fact, and all is accurate!

  5. Greg says:

    Joe and John… It’s a great piece and great to have someone aged 14 interested enough to get involved. I’ve been involved in these sort of things for over 20 years now… churches Nightshelter in Newham in the 90s and more recently drop ins for homeless and vulnerable people in Preston. But the management group in all cases has said very strongly no under 16s or under 18s as volunteers as they see it as a safeguarding issue.. and know that a number of the service users could be quite risky people…(I think they exaggerate the danger- and ironnically do CRB checks on the volunteers rather than the guests – but I know it there is a low frequency risk of something really serious happening) How do you get round this in your churhc nighshelter situation…?

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