Churches preparing for sixth season of Ipswich Winter Night Shelter
PUBLISHED: 08:00 02 December 2016
On the final day of our investigation into homelessness in Ipswich, Gemma Mitchell finds out about the night shelter that operates in the town during the winter months.
As temperatures begin to plummet below freezing, churches across Ipswich are preparing to open their doors to the homeless for the three coldest months of the year.
The Ipswich Winter Night Shelter sees seven ‘host’ churches in the town centre offer a bed, a hot evening meal and breakfast for up to 12 people each night of the week.
Now in its sixth season, the shelter is open between December 8 and March 12.
Julia Hancock, business manager of charity Selig Suffolk, which organises the shelter, said the purpose was to provide “hope and hospitality” to people in need.
The night shelter works alongside other agencies in the Ipswich Locality Homelessness Partnership to help guests access the help they need to restore their lives beyond the winter months.
“If life has become less chaotic they are better able to engage,” Ms Hancock added.
“No drugs or alcohol are allowed at the shelter. It means they are probably more clear-headed, too.
“Although it seems very simple, what it does is provide safety, warmth and food to enable guests to engage with agencies the next day.
“In an ideal world the night shelter would not be needed by the end of the season because the people would use it to help themselves move on. That’s the mission.”
The night shelter also offers an extra slot on Sundays between 3pm and 6pm where guests can meet support and advice services.
“It’s much better than trying to interact with our guests in the evenings because they have a meal and a shower so that takes up the evening,” Ms Hancock added.
People are booked in with the night shelter in advance and will stay for varying lengths of times, depending on their situation. Each guest is drawn up a “plan of action” to help them find long-term accommodation as well as work or volunteering opportunities.
Ms Hancock said some people will stay at the shelter for just a couple of days before an interview or appointment to help them reach that meeting on time and with a clear mind.
This year three of the host churches have a shower, towels and toiletries for guests to use.
Last year just one church had shower facilities, but two others have since paid for the installation especially for the night shelter.
“The whole project is run on the goodwill of people,” she added. “It wouldn’t exist without the volunteers and churches.”
New housing scheme puts Hope into Action
Selig Suffolk has launched a new project to help vulnerable people beyond the night shelter.
Hope into Action is an initiative that started in Peterborough and sees a church community buy a house and offer it to homeless people, ex-offenders and people in rehabilitation for substance abuse.
The tenants are provided a mentor and support from the church to get them back on their feet.
A house based on the Hope into Action model is already up and running in Woodbridge.
Now the first property in Ipswich has been bought by a local investor, and refurbishment work is underway ready for two tenants to move in next year.
Ms Hancock said: “The church provides community and family and often that’s what these people need where access to these connections may have been broken or unhelpful.
“It’s a great fit with the night shelter and we may have night shelter guests this year who can move into a Hope into Action house.
“We start with people we are working with already in the night shelter. There will be other agencies who might want to refer a tenant to us and then we assess them and it’s about the tenant being ready and willing to change.
“We won’t offer people a tenancy unless they are confident that they are ready and able to make changes.”
The average tenancy usually lasts around nine months, after which people are able to find long-term accommodation of their own or re-establish a good relationship with friends and family members.
Extra beds on hand
Emergency beds are also available for single adults at Cavendish Lodge in Ipswich.
Homeless people can go to the hostel, based in Turret Lane, and get a bed that same night for up to 28 days. It works on a first-come-first-served basis.
Cavendish Lodge, run by Genesis Housing Association, also has three flats where people can stay for up to two years.
Kim Organ, services coordinator, said: “Most of the time it’s full.
“It’s quite rare that we have beds going spare. It’s quite heavily in demand, really.”
While the tenants are at Cavendish Lodge, staff work with them and other support agencies to help them move into independent and long-term accommodation.
To read day four of our homelessness investigation, click here.