We are half way through this winter’s night shelter – and what a year it has become. So far this winter, we have amassed a total of 1800+ volunteer hours, which in the middle of a Pandemic is amazing. Over 400 sleeps have been prevented and over 700 meals served.
When we started 5 years ago we ran for 3 nights a week for 14 hours in each session. This year we are running 7 days/week, 24 hours/day – a massive increase. We didn’t plan it this way but the impact of Covid19 has meant a dramatic change in plans. Soon after the government announced the new lockdown measures in late December, we started working with the council on what that meant for our guests. Although no one is allowed outside except for buying essential items and 1 hour of exercise, our guests cannot do this. Not only do they not have a place to go during the day, many businesses are now closed which cuts off their supply of warm places to stay and even eat.
With financial support from the Winter Transformation Fund, administered by Housing Justice and Homeless Link, and with a lot of help from our amazing volunteers, we were able to move on 11th January from being an overnight shelter to being a venue where guests can stay 24/hour day.
We have had to take measures to ensure everyone is safe and that our guests are not bored by being shut in all the time. As such:
- guests are encouraged to go outside for exercise each day; some have a friend/ family member they can meet for this purpose
- we facilitate socially distanced interaction in the garden (there are garden chairs)
- welfare checks are carried out at least twice a day
- we provide NHS distraction packs, which were used successfully for homeless guests in hotels/ hostels during first lockdown, solo games, books, activity books and hopefully art packs. We have a donation of £50 towards this and have applied for £200 for this purpose from the KCC councillors’ community fund. We’re also considering whether some of this should be used to buy small radios.
- guests are able to talk with coordinators/ volunteers, using the perspex screen in the staff area
- guests are encouraged to take responsibility for sanitising their bathrooms, sanitising after making drinks in the upstairs kitchen, and in changing their bedding
- all coordinators have information on available chat/ text/phone helplines for mental health support
We have to stress that none of this would be possible without the support of our volunteers.
In recognition of what is being achieved we received an email from the Assistant Director of Housing at Gravesham Borough Council, who has been a great support to us. His very kind comments are a tribute to ALL involved, whether that’s in giving time or in donating finances. Here is a part of that email:
“I understand how difficult it must be currently to safely open and manage a Winter Night Shelter provision, and quite rightly given where we are with the pandemic, you and the team raised some concerns about operating across two sites.
The Winter Night Shelter is an essential provision and so it was great to hear that a solution was found to not only keep the shelter operational but to operate in a safer way from one site whilst also reducing the risk of virus transmission for rough sleepers and Gravesham Sanctuary Volunteers.
The work you and your teams do has such a positive impact on some of our most vulnerable residents and so I wanted to say how thankful I am to all of you.
Keep up the great work and please pass my thanks on to everyone involved.”
I’ll end by adding my own grateful thanks as well as from the management team and trustees of Sanctuary
Steve Nolan, Sanctuary Project Manager