Twenty-eight people came to this meeting at Socketts Heath Baptist Church, representing between 12 and 15 different churches. We were also pleased to welcome two Thurrock Council staff who work with the homeless in the borough.
After introductions, at which everyone explained why they’d come, we then listened to Loretta and John (from Thurrock Council) who gave us a brief insight into the problem as the Council sees it, and what they are doing to respond.
From the work done by St Mungo’s outreach team, the number of people rough-sleeping in Thurrock over the winter of 2016-17 was 4, and this had risen to 9 over the winter of 2017-18. While they acknowledged that the term ‘homeless’ is disputed by organisations like Crisis and Shelter, often to include those in temporary accommodation or those sleeping on sofas, they argued that it is rough-sleepers who are at the sharp edge of the homelessness problem, which is why the Council’s focus is on them.
The Council has a set of 5 criteria for determining who to help and these are: eligibility; whether they are currently homeless (i.e. without any form of shelter); their level of priority (e.g. having children); whether they are homeless intentionally; and, also whether they have a local connection. These admittedly tough criteria are applied to ensure that the Council’s limited resources are used to help those in greatest need.
After some discussion, we then heard from Reverend Esther McCafferty, who is Rector of St Martin of Tours in Basildon, and current Chair of the Basildon Homelessness Working Group, which has been responsible for running a Winter Night Shelter for the past two years. Esther explained how the Night Shelter project started, growing out of initial work to provide hot meals through the churches, and ran for 3 nights in 2016-17 and then 5 nights last winter.
Esther talked about the benefits of using the Housing Justice resource “Shelter in a Pack” (cost £1500) for anyone thinking of setting up a Night Shelter. This pack contains all the guidelines as well as templates of procedures and agreements that would be needed. Esther explained the challenges of getting enough volunteers and the reason that the Basildon project had decided to employ a part-time Co-ordinator. She also emphasised the importance of working in partnership with other local groups and organisations.
The next step for us in Thurrock is to set up a working group to explore further what the churches in Thurrock might do to respond to the homeless in our area. If you were not at the meeting and would like to know more about being part of this group then please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ashley Lovett, 06/04/2018