14 December 2017, The Tablet

Demand for night shelters increases by 53 per cent in one year

More people than ever before are being forced to use church and community night shelters, according to the ecumenical housing and homelessness charity Housing Justice, writes Bernadette Kehoe.

New figures released this week indicate a 53 per cent increase on the previous year, with almost 3,000 people turning to emergency accommodation.

Church and community night shelters are voluntary-led projects providing accommodation in winter. People are provided with a camp bed, bedding and a hot meal, usually in a church or community building or other faith building. Most receive no funding from government or local authorities.

As demand grows, the shelters are undergoing a rapid expansion; two years ago, there were 65 shelters operating in the Housing Justice network. Now there are 107 projects.

During the winter of 2016-17, on average each shelter remained open for 102 nights, 40 per cent of guests stayed in the shelter for less than a week, while 30 per cent stayed longer than a month.

“Underpinning this huge rise in guests at night shelters is the significant rise in rough sleepers since 2011 (134 per cent), owing to issues such as welfare reform and the ending of a tenancy in the private rented sector,” the charity said.

The chief executive of Housing Justice, Kathy Mohan, described the numbers as “appalling”. “The figures show that the housing crisis is becoming a homelessness crisis with such a significant rise in the numbers of people being forced to sleep on camp beds in church halls up and down the country,” she said. “Typically guests staying in night shelters will not be recorded in street-counts and official measures of homelessness. Street rough sleeping, and potentially street fatalities would be higher without these incredible projects and their volunteers.”

She stressed that the figures should be a wake-up call to local authorities and the government, given that a significant number of people are relying for shelter on voluntary services, saying: “The government should take note of the work grassroots projects are carrying out and work with them to achieve better outcomes for guests in night shelters. Most of all [it] should look urgently at what can be done to support these projects, increase bed spaces and plan more sustainable housing solutions for night shelter guests.”

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