Winter Night Shelter – Redhill’s ‘Big Society’!

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I think David Cameron would be proud of us! Not that I’m too bothered about that really, but one of the things he talked about in his election campaign and not  long after becoming PM, was this idea of the ‘Big Society’. In July 2010, he described it being his ‘passion’ and a way to ’empower communities’. That communities and ordinary people themselves would be able to make things happen, and that a ‘spirit of volunteering’ would be fostered. Critics have said this is a way for government to get out of funding what should be their responsibility. But whatever the politics of it, the Winter Night Shelter in Redhill is  a great example that maybe we should tell him about!

In September 2011, the local police approached the Salvation Army, who run a project called Hope 25:40, aimed at helping homeless people locally through a drop in , a job club, a rent deposit scheme which has got 35 people into permanent accommodation over the past year, and a ‘befriender scheme’ , supporting people once they have been housed. They have gained a great deal of respect from statutory services , the police themselves, probation, and the local authority. Hope 25:40 is a Christian project, born out of Street Pastors, with like-minded people coming together and deciding they wanted to do something for the homeless in the town and local area. I have previously  blogged about our gospel choir’s fundraising concert for the project.

The police recognised there are a number of street homeless people and that the cold winter nights are a risk to them, so asked if it would be possible to set up a Winter Night Shelter for these weeks.

In record time , the idea became reality, 7 nights a week shared between four local churches , with the Salvation Army taking the lead, and offering their building four nights per week. For 6 weeks, there has been a warm room, a bed, a hot evening meal and breakfast provided.  In addition, lots of good conversation, games and laughter.The shelter started on 18th dec and finishes this w/e, although almost certainly this is not the end and it will lead onto even bigger things.

The statistics speak for themselves: It has been run entirely  by volunteers, nearly 400 of them in total! Most from local churches, but some from the local estate around the Salvation Army building, young mums who have been going to a local toddler group there, a nurse who saw the project in the local newspaper and wanted to help, and some individuals who have been helped  themselves by Hope 25:40 over the past year. Over 21 homeless people were helped at some stage, over 400 evening meals and 200 breakfasts were served, and the shelter was full for the last few weeks of its operation. Two people were helped to secure permanent accommodation during their stay, and for others there were options in the pipeline.

That God was in this there is no doubt. From the miraculous provision of old police custody mattresses for people to sleep on,  to discounted sleeping bags from the town Millets store, Sainsburys and Morrisons supermarkets supplying food, the Salvation Army clothing shop offering people clothing, and the fact that  the whole project went smoothly with very little challenging behaviour to deal with.

As a volunteer, it was a fantastic experience, just a sense of being able to do something positive that was really impacting people’s lives. I met so many people, both guests and volunteers and life is much richer for it . I am sure that was the experience of everyone who helped out, all of us will be back next year and I think we will be fighting for shifts!

To finish I just wanted to share 5 things I learnt over this time:

1) There is no ‘stereotype’ of a homeless person. People become homeless for a variety of reasons, relationships breaking up, spending too long in prison so your housing benefit has stopped, anger issues that result in injunctions taken out by relatives, substance misuse problems. Each individual story is different.

2) Everyone is a human being and we can connect when we recognise that. Watching the camaraderie building up between guests and volunteers, playing games, eating meals together, made me realise once again that we are all made in the image of God.

3) The people of God can change the world! So much has been achieved through Hope 25:40 in such a short space of  time but how much more can we do if we really take seriously the Biblical  imperative to ‘Act Justly, Love Mercy and Walk Humbly with your God’. (Micah 6 v 8).

4) The Salvation Army is a fantastic godly institution. I confess to not really ‘getting’  it, the uniform, the bands, even the theology at some level. It will always be to me slightly quirky and yet the most amazing organisation for bringing about social change in the name of Jesus, and I’m not going to argue with that!

5) When God is in something, impossibles become achievables. There were so many ‘miracles’ in this story, and God’s provision has been impossible to deny. I read somewhere, ‘ When I pray co-incidences happen, when I don’t, they don’t’. So many ‘co-incidences’ occurred, just one example,  the police mattresses  were about to be thrown on the scrap heap, just when someone from the project phoned up and asked where they could be obtained from. Another eg, the salvation army officer was standing next to the divisional manager of Sainsburys at the queen’s visit to open the local educational college. By the end of the afternoon, a whole lorry load of food had been promised! We are sons and daughters of the creator and owner of the entire universe; if we are doing His business, we can count on Him to provide everything we need!

So in summary, a wonderful example of the community and people of God coming together and changing things for the better. Looking forward to what is going to come next!


About hilarymak

I am a follower of Jesus, mother of two adult children, work as a psychiatrist and have an interest in mission and social justice. I blog occasionally as a way of reflecting on life, its ups and downs, joys and sorrows and most of all the faithfulness of my Father God.

Posted on January 30, 2012, in Homelessness, Social Action and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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