An email reminds me that I am on duty the following night at my local church with its participation in the Winter Night Shelter Programme (WNS) run by All People All Places (APAP) from December to April. The operation involves 21 people in 5 crews from 6 pm to 9 am the following morning: Cooks (prepare evening meal for 24 people – 2) Set-up (lay out bedding &c for guests and volunteers – 7) Night (2 on 2 off through the night making a crew of 4) Cooks (breakfast for volunteers and guests – 3) and Clear Up team (5).
Choosing your slot is made easy with Doodle meeting scheduler software. Turning up at 9.30 pm, the other three volunteers of my shift are on site and I and the other man are given the second slot meaning we have to sleep first till 3 am. Before getting my head down around 10.30 pm there is time to chat with the other volunteers and guests who are variously engaged in playing snakes and ladders, a huge floor version of Connect 4 while another volunteer is talking to one of the guests in Spanish.
It’s Cold Outside
Tonight we have 8 guests after one did not show. They are all known to the shelter being referred by social services or maybe the police. This means they are able to use the church hall as an address to receive benefits and mail and all seem to have mobiles. In December Haringey Council initiated it’s Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) where using Streetlink one can give details of homeless people who may end up in the WNS programme.
After little sleep in the side chapel it’s 3 am. The two ladies who did the first shift have gone to sleep at the other end of the church where fortunately the heating has been left on. My shiftmate is already awake with his laptop and earphones, all wrapped up on the sofa, so I go to the bookshop reception desk and manage to make some progress in the Statics module in my Open University B.Sc Maths & Physics degree. At 5 am my alarm reminds me to wake one of the guests who has to leave for work early but he is already awake. I give him his foil-wrapped sandwich prepared the night before and after a shower, he says goodbye 30 minutes later.
6 am and the main organiser is back with the chefs arriving soon after with the hot food served from 7.30 am. Other knocks on the door are from a crew making a film about John White of Tottenham Hotspur F C a young footballer killed in 1964 when he was struck by lightning and we show them through to the back of the church. Just after 8, I step out into a dark rainy Muswell Hill Broadway and a rest until my next scheduled shift in February.
Want to Help?
Ask at your local church or APAP or just google “volunteering (your location)”.