'We don't want to close Hackney Winter Night Shelter for seven months a year, but we can't afford to keep it open'
PUBLISHED: 09:00 14 April 2017 | UPDATED: 12:52 17 April 2017
Hackney Winter Night Shelter shut for the summer on March 31. Later this month Gazette staff will tackle the Hackney Half for the charity - in the hope it can stay open longer next year. David Child finds out about its vital work.
Housing the homeless since its beginnings in 1993, the Hackney Winter Night Shelter (HWNS) has soothed many a soul on wretched winter evenings.
Open for five months each year, November to March, the shelter provides dinner, bedding and breakfast for dozens in Hackney who would otherwise be on the streets.
This month, three staff from the Gazette will be among 37 people running the Hackney Half Marathon in support of the shelter.
Andrew Hudson, 59, is the charity’s chair of trustees. He’s hoping people in Hackney will get behind those running for its future.
“We have to raise every penny ourselves, to cover the cost of staff, training, food, heating, and other things,” he said.
“A really successful campaign at the half will help us to do more for guests by giving more training to volunteers or extending the services we can offer.”
Andrew, 59, joined the programme 15 years ago, and still lends a hand today.
“This is something where you can make a tangible difference,” he said.
“One of the most important things is the warmth of the welcome – it needs to be sensitive.
“If we do our job well you can see people relax having had a miserable day.”
The shelter welcomed 100 guests this winter, spread across the 15-odd churches in Hackney supporting the scheme.
With just two members of full-time staff, HWNS relies on volunteers. Seven hundred people offer their assistance each winter but there’s always a need for further help, according to Andrew.
“One of our challenges is to increase our staffing and be better able to support the churches in finding the volunteers they need,” he said.
Matt Lewis, 29, volunteered for three months at HWNS this winter. He witnessed first-hand the valuable contribution being made by the project.
“You can see you’re making a difference, however small, in making these people more comfortable in what is a very difficult situation for them,” he said.
“There’s no reason why I can’t give up one night a week to help people out.”
The Gazette spoke to one user of the shelter, who wished to remain anonymous, about the support he received.
“The empathy that you get from all the volunteers is amazing,” he said.
”Everyone in the shelter is from a different background. There are so many different types of people who are homeless, and they don’t judge or criticise anyone.”
Companionship, cooking and a comfortable bed for the night – little things can make a big difference.
“Everybody is trying hard and these people need empathy,” he said.
“The shelter is providing help; the volunteers do it with all their hearts.
“I don’t know where they come from but it’s quite a service they provide for the community.”
Before Christmas, the shelter runs seven days a week but changes venue every night. After Christmas, two shelters run each night so more people can be taken in.
But the shelters shut altogether on March 31 and don’t reopen for seven months. Now the fear for many is the uncertainty faced by those still without housing – and without the support of the churches and volunteers through spring and summer.
“You could see people towards the end of the winter becoming stressed about the thought of being back out on the streets,” said Matt. “This is the thin end of the wedge. There are lots of people that want to help, and could help, but it can’t carry on all year round because of the money.”
Sponsor Gazette runners Patrick, Peter and Will: bit.ly/gazetterunners