Bridgend Quakers - Crynwyr Penybont ar Ogwr

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Quaker Homeless Action Christmas Shelter in London

Every year Quakers run a Christmas Shelter at Union Chapel in Islington, London from 23 to 30 December.   This  is mostly funded by donations from Quaker Meetings including Bridgend Meeting. The shelter has 26 beds for homeless people who are referred by other agencies or self refer, 80 to 100 people come for a good hot evening meal.  The shelter also provides showers, clean clothes and coats, and most importantly footwear which is brought to order for needy guests.  There is a television, cards and games and sometimes entertainment, some medical help and someone to talk to.

Margins Project for homeless and marginalized people  runs from the Chapel all year round and Christian Action and Response in Society runs shelters through Islington Churches Cold Weather Scheme.  The Pilion Trust are professional outreach workers for drug and alcohol addiction and mental health needs. We work with volunteers and paid workers from these organisations.

Who are our guests at the shelter?  

Guests come from all areas of the UK and all parts of the world, they are all ages and some have physical disability.  Two thirds of rough sleepers have mental health difficulties and substance misuse problems.  Homelessness has increased recently due to unemployment, re-possessions, cuts in housing benefit forcing people out of privately rented property, and relationship breakdown.  People may become homeless when leaving institutions like hospital: 3% of homeless are ex-services;  25% have been in care;  40% have been in prison.  They may be long term unemployed, have had interrupted education and have poor literacy skills.

The most common reason for women becoming homeless is domestic violence.  The people who come for meals but not to sleep may be “sofa surfers” or squatters in temporary insecure accommodation, others have paid rent but can not afford food, some are poor and lonely.   Having worked at the shelter for a  few years I know some of the regular guests and local helpers.

What is it like to volunteer at the shelter?

Volunteers are offered accommodation at the Penn Club which has Quaker connections, we eat there, or serve the guests meals and then sit and eat with them.  There is a great feeling of 'camaraderie” as we travel by bus together to and from shifts.  Many of the same people volunteer every year so it is great to get together with friends.  Most but not all volunteers belong to a Quaker meeting.  Shift leaders allocate duties and then we are very busy cooking, organizing showers, putting up beds etc. We wear a QHA apron with a first name sticker.  When we have a moment we sit and talk to guests and smile a lot.  The shift is over in no time and we go home tired but still chatting.

Deana Owen