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Why the Hackney Gazette is running the Hackney Half for the Winter Night Shelter – and how you can sponsor us

PUBLISHED: 18:04 26 April 2018 | UPDATED: 09:35 27 April 2018

The Hackney Winter Night Shelter team at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Bouverie Road, Stoke Newington, last month. Picture: Polly Hancock

The Hackney Winter Night Shelter team at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Bouverie Road, Stoke Newington, last month. Picture: Polly Hancock

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Hackney Winter Night Shelter is not just a place to sleep – it also aims to get guests off the streets permanently. With funds raised by Gazette staff running the Hackney Half next month, it may be able to stay open longer and help more. Vicky Munro finds out more.

Volunteers prepare beds, towels and food at the Hackney Night Shelter at Our Lady of Good Counsel. Picture: Polly HancockVolunteers prepare beds, towels and food at the Hackney Night Shelter at Our Lady of Good Counsel. Picture: Polly Hancock

Hackney Winter Night Shelter (HWNS) has spent a quarter of a decade trying to provide a route out of homelessness for those in need in Hackney.

Next month, three Gazette staff will join volunteers running the Hackney Half marathon to help them reach their target of £15,000 in donations.

The hope is that extra funding will allow the shelter, which rotates nightly between church venues from November to March, to extend its opening time.

Iris Andrews, 31, a HWNS volunteer for four years, said: “When you get to the end of March and you still have guests that haven’t found a way out of homelessness, it’s heartbreaking to know that you have to close the doors and those people are likely to be back on the street.

“It would be wonderful if it could be opened year round.”

Alongside food and somewhere to sleep, the charity’s advocate workers try to find their 15 to 25 guests somewhere permanent to stay by working with local agencies and providing travel cards so they can attend appointments.

She added: “Every week the shelter can be open is another opportunity for the guests to work on longer term solutions to their homelessness.

“You never know if a couple extra weeks could make the difference in someone’s life for the long term.”

Volunteers prepare beds, towels and food at the Hackney Night Shelter at Our Lady of Good Counsel. Picture: Polly HancockVolunteers prepare beds, towels and food at the Hackney Night Shelter at Our Lady of Good Counsel. Picture: Polly Hancock

One former guest, who became homeless after her marriage broke down, credits HWNS staff with helping her get into a full-time shelter.

She said: “The staff at the shelter helped me – I felt I had the support I needed to keep going.”

The story of former guest called Paul, who used the shelter in 2013 to 2014, features in the shelter’s annual report.

Paul became homeless after unreliable work meant he could not pay his rent and said hearing he had a place at HWNS was like Santa Claus calling.

He said: “To be honest, I don’t know how I would have survived that winter without them.”

HWNS helped him see an emergency dentist and to fill in the forms to get a tax refund.

He said: “It was just what I needed to pay for a deposit to rent a room and start regular work.

“The HWNS helped me rebuild my life.”

HWNS does not receive government funding so relies entirely on donations and fundraising, such as the Hackney Half and the Belter for the Shelter.

Chair of trustees Andrew Hudson, 60, said: “To help put an end to rough sleeping in Hackney, we want to involve the community as widely as possible - giving money, giving time, supporting us with meals or donations towards clothing and other things.

“It’s great that the Gazette can publicise what we do, as well as running alongside us again!”

Emma Banks, 41, a volunteer for five years, said that the shelter was planning to reach out even more to local businesses.

She said: “There’s a real sense of ‘we’re Hackney so we’re proud,’ which we’d love to build on.

“We have to ask the big companies to help us out but we’d also like to involve little bakeries and coffee shops, which would get a sense of community spirit and awareness of the shelter out there.”

She added that the shelter’s emphasis on positivity is a big part of its appeal.

She said: “We’re more focused on trying to give a sense of hope to the guests and not kind of dramatise homelessness.”

However, she credited a changing political climate with increasing support for the shelter and other homelessness charities.

“The government are changing the threshold for housing for mental health patients so you’re going to see a different kind of homelessness soon,” she said.

“The landscape is changing and I think people are more aware of that and there is a sense that we all need to get together and help.”

Sponsor the team by visiting the Gazette fundraising page.

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