At the end of last week, the Folkestone Churches Winter Shelter closed for the season, after three months working to support some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Every night, from the beginning of December through to the end of February it has opened in different church halls across the town providing a warm meal and a bed for the night for homeless people. This service is delivered by volunteers, and whilst it receives some funding from Shepway District Council and other local organisations like the Roger De Haan Charitable Trust, the Winter Shelter also raises money throughout the year from the community as well, to enable it to function. Its important work would not be possible without the time a dedication of the many people who volunteer to support the shelter.
Two weeks ago I met with Ali Chambers, the manager of the winter shelter, and her team at St John’s Church Hall in Folkestone. As well as providing overnight accommodation the shelter team work with the homeless people in their care, to support their needs and to try and get them into a more settled situation. In this regard the shelter works with local charities like the Rainbow Centre and Porchlight, as well as with the housing team at Shepway District Council. Where possible this winter, people who have come to the shelter for support, have been placed in permanent accommodation. The Rainbow Centre also works with local GPs to identify and treat any health problems that homeless people in the town are suffering from. I would like to thank Ali Chambers and her team for all of their hard work in running the winter shelter, not only during the last three months, but for all the effort it takes around the year to raise the funds for the shelter, and to prepare for its opening each December. You can find out more about the Folkestone Churches Winter Shelter, and read the reports about their work in previous years at their website wintershelter.org.uk
According to official figures, the number of homeless people in the United Kingdom has fallen by 58% since its peak in 2004. However, we need to go even further. In January, Shepway, along with Dover and Thanet councils, received joint funding of £400,000 from the government’s new £50million homelessness prevention programme. The government is also supporting a Homeless Reduction Bill, which has already completed all its stages in the House of Commons, and is now in the House of Lord’s for approval. This Bill places a duty on local authorities to help eligible people at risk of homelessness to secure accommodation, 56 days before they are threatened with homelessness, and to provide those who find themselves homeless with support for a further period of 56 days to help to secure accommodation. The bill will also ensure that other local services refer people who are either homeless or at risk of being homeless to local authority housing teams.