A pilot project organised by Churches Together in Halifax has been welcoming, accommodating and feeding people who would otherwise fall through the net.
Organiser David Fawcett says that he and other Christians involved with the Halifax Food and Support Drop-in, realised that many people in Calderdale were among the ‘hidden homeless’ – those who are simply not picked up by the system.
“On just one Saturday at the Drop-in we identified at least ten homeless people,” he says. “We knew of people sleeping in skips, spending the night in the woods, or sofa surfing. So we decided to respond. There was no point in reinventing the wheel, so we looked around at other projects that we could mirror.”
They found one not far away – the Inn Churches project in Bradford (www.innchurches.co.uk). In just two years it has grown from a month-long pilot to a thriving project, providing two thousand temporary beds for homeless and vulnerable people. The aim is to use available spaces in churches and mobilise volunteers to feed, host and support the homeless at the coldest time of the year.
In Halifax, Churches Together held an open meeting to gauge the level of interest – which was overwhelming: “At the first meeting we had 65 people turn up, and 65 volunteers,” says David. “At our second meeting a further 55 people volunteered.”
Volunteers have received training, and the project is taking place at Carlton United Reformed Church in Halifax over four weekends in January and February. Each night, up to ten visitors are offered accommodation, a hot evening meal and breakfast, before being put in touch with the appropriate accommodation and employment services on Monday, to enable them get back on track. If no solution is found for them in the week after they have stayed, they are invited back to the shelter of the church the following weekend.
Nigel, one of the visitors on the first weekend, had come to Halifax from Bradford. A sofa surfer for two and a half years, for a fortnight he had been sleeping in a wet quilt in an open field. He said: “Coming here has given me a sign of hope – it’s been a godsend. These volunteers might not have been through what I’ve been through, but they’re people that care.”