Winter night shelter for destitute asylum seekers
WYDAN focusses support on Asylum Seekers, including those refused Asylum and those who are without recourse to any public funds. They work with other charities including the Red Cross, PAFRAS, Short Stop and others to support individuals who are destitute – those who literally have nothing. They care for people without other help.
Last winter, due to changes in public funding, services for the homeless were under more pressure than ever. One consequence of this was that it was harder than ever to find night shelter for destitute asylum seekers. Trustees, staff and volunteers at WYDAN all agreed they didn't ever want to see such unmet need again. And so they are proposing that night shelter needs for male asylum seekers, including those refused asylum, will be met in the churches during the coldest months of the winter, from December to March.
It is an ambitious plan, but they are a determined group and are supported by other charities, and by a special Bradford Based charity called Inn Churches. That's 'inn' with a 'double n' – it is all about the hospitality. In Bradford 27 Churches are now part of a network that offers homeless people a bed for the night during winter. Each week, a different church sets up 12 beds in its hall and Inn Churches refers homeless people to them.
People arrive at about 5pm, and are fed an evening meal. People from the church cook the meal, also eat with the GUESTS, chat and listen – befriending. Overnight two volunteers will spend the night at church – one staying awake all the time. Then in the morning, there is time for breakfast and people leave at about 8ish.
During the day, the beds can be pushed to one side, so church services can take place or the room be used for children's activities and so on. You may have to cancel an evening booking, but for example, one church where Brownies was cancelled for the night, they made sweet gift packs to be put on each bed with a welcome card, and joined in the hospitality. Everyone thought it was worthwhile.
It seems amazing that this support can be co-ordinated and provided. Every year, more churches decide they want to be involved, and there are hundreds of volunteers. Some local restaurants provide evening meals. In Bradford, there is a team of hairdressers who take it in turns to offer to cut hair each week. People want to be involved because they can see they can meet the need of people who have nothing – and are rewarded by return friendship and sharing.
The dream is that this can happen in Leeds.
On Wednesday last week, 43 people from different churches met to learn more about this initiative and think whether their church could be part of this effort. There were lots of practical questions, and there was a lot of good will. One church has already signed up – offering to host people in Christmas week. There were people present from Headingley who are keen to see local churches agree to give it a try.
You don't need to provide beds – they will all be delivered on a Monday and taken away on a Monday – including toiletry packs. You just need a room big enough for 9 or ten beds with a chair at the side; if you can arrange the food – great, and volunteers – great.
If you draw up a timetable and have lots of gaps – the bigger team will be able to bring in the people or food. You will get a health and safety check list, and there will be someone on call at all times. One or two people from your church need to go on a training day in October (two dates will be available, and will be confirmed very soon). You will then know enough to give it a go – not to be perfect – but to be safe and hospitable.
It is really important for us in Headingley to think about this. We are happy to be home to St Monica's that provides long term homes for women asylum seekers – and there is no parallel provision for men. WYDAN suggests that the Leeds churches offer night shelter particularly to men. In the not too distant future, St Monica's will be closing down. If WYDAN can coordinate a response to the future needs of homeless, destitute men, other charities will find the resources to help vulnerable women.
If your Church is even a little bit interested, please sign up on the sheet. Your details will be given to Katrina at WYDAN who will then be in direct contact with you. She will be able to answer lots of questions and organise someone to visit your church and talk things through. The commitment of WYDAN, backed by Inn Churches, is phenomenal. Do find out more – you may be able to volunteer some help, even if your Church community can't host people for a week.