We in Christchurch, for the first time, took part in the Night Shelter Project in 2013/2014. We didn’t know what to expect and there was a lot of uncertainty and fear of the unknown, both from some of our Church members and also those who live in the neighbourhood.
The logistics of arranging volunteers, food and other resources for nine nights over nine weeks was quite daunting, but we were fortunate that both church members and complete strangers offered either their services and/or monies to support our efforts.
The whole Night Shelter operation is very well organised and all our volunteers attended a training presentation in Church after our 10.30 Service on a Sunday morning. What was encouraging was that ultimately we had more volunteers than we needed, but by juggling the rotas we were able to get everybody involved.
Someone from the Night Shelter organisation was always present when our guests arrived between 7.00 and 8.00 p.m. and again in the morning around 8.00 a.m. when they left us. Our co-ordinator was also advised by phone not later than 5.00 p.m. on the day we were hosting, to give us an idea of the numbers of guests, so that enough food could be prepared for both our guests and the volunteers on the 6.00 to 10.00 p.m. shift who not only helped to cook and serve the food, but also sat with our guests and shared the evening with them, both talking and listening.
Before we starting hosting the Night Shelter, somebody told us that as volunteers we would gain more from the experience than our guests. As the weeks went by it was clear what this actually meant and the missional and outreach effect the Night Shelter had on all of us in the community was amazing. How often did we hear complete strangers saying that it was encouraging to see the Church ‘walking the walk and not just talking the talk’.
The weather in November, December and January was pretty awful and that we could give shelter and food to between eight and twelve people every Tuesday night and Wednesday morning was gratifying. There wasn’t really a typical type of person who is homeless, and both men and women of all ages and from all sorts of backgrounds were our guests. What they all had in common however was their politeness and appreciation of all that was being done for them.
We also as volunteers got to know some of our regular guests, although quite often they varied week to week. Imagine therefore our delight when some of our regulars no longer turned up because they had moved into their own accommodation and were no longer homeless. It surely must be the hope of all the Night Shelters volunteers through-out the Diocese that the support to our brothers and sisters during their time of need helped and encouraged them to get back on their feet.
By the way, the initial doubts and fears proved to be wholly unfounded…and we’re now in our third year supporting this worthwhile activity.