Back in 2018, members of Streatham Baptist Church started to get involved in what was the "Winter Night Shelter", something that churches, other faith groups and non-faith organisations were providing for rough sleepers during the coldest, harshest months of the year. Across Streatham and the surrounding area, SBC, along with a group of other churches, provided hot food, hospitality and a warm, dry place to sleep for the night:- usually some camp beds and sleeping bags in a different church hall each night of the week.
Then, 2020 happened. The Covid pandemic struck, and central government stepped in, in a way we have never seen them do before, using otherwise empty hotels and B&Bs to help house a variety of people with housing needs. Although it's a complicated picture, the night shelter network and some other homeless provisions across the country were often (though not always) no longer required. For some people, for some time, this was fantastic news.
But, this situation still didn't solve many of the other problems that people with housing needs often face.
Whilst many people are "materially poor", people are often affected by other forms of poverty too and this sees them stuck in a chronic situation or cycle. See SBC member Jon's short blog post here (or more in-depth one here) for a better explanation of the three forms of poverty.
Post-Covid, and we've entered a bit of a different era.
In 2021-2022, members of Streatham Baptist Church and other local churches once again stepped up to provide some support in the winter months for both rough sleepers, but also those who have somewhere to stay but had other needs: perhaps struggling to pay for heating or food, lonely or in need of other help.
We were not able to provide somewhere to stay, but there was hot food, a bit of chat, and the offer of further help by directing people to other local services.
But was it enough?
In July, members of SBC met to discuss all that was great about the "Winter Provision" and what could be improved. You can read the (short and sweet) full minutes of the meeting by clicking here, but I'll summarise them below:
- There were loads of good aspects to the provision, including building and serving our community, offering hospitality and showing Jesus' love. Many people were able to serve in different ways too.
- Improvements would include more space for spiritual input: we are a church after all! This would not be forced, but we have more to offer than just hot food. Overall, the objectives were a bit unclear:- what were we really trying to do?
A fresh direction.
- It was agreed that there was a need for clear expectations, both for volunteers (especially those from outside the church) as well as guests, so that people knew the way the provision was going to be run.
- It was also clear that we would be ‘pivoting’ our approach and not ‘doing a 180 degree turn’ – we want to try small steps to embody these things but also be intentional about them so we both take people with us and change the way we do things.
- Jon encouraged people to read the report "Lost and Found: faith and spirituality in the lives of homeless people"
Lots more was discussed, but some of the key "next steps" included:
- We plan to start the provision on 12th October and run to 14th December before breaking again and possibly doing another 10 week block after Christmas.
- We are also planning a Saturday training and planning event for late September/early October.
- We will arrange for some London Baptist Safeguarding training.
- We would work on publicity in advance of this so we are as clear as possible.
Write up by Daniel May-Miller, from notes taken by Jon Kuhrt.