As homelessness in England rises to 280,000 people, we visit a shelter that has served pregnant women, chemotherapy patients and a professional chef
“Bless this food and nourish our guests.”
There are seven golden rules in place at this Glass Door homeless shelter but, as the 11 volunteers say a brief prayer before opening the church to 35 guests this evening, this little line captures the essence of them all.
“It’s a quiet space that we try and make like a home as much as possible,” says Rachael Lindsay, communications officer for the charity.
The menu this evening is vegetable soup, fish pie and trifle – a three-course meal for 35 people plus the volunteers, cooked fresh on an astonishing budget.
James Bullock, 30, is the venue’s chef. “We’re restrained a bit with the budget but we do the same thing every week. Tonight we spent £55 for three courses, around 40 portions.
“The main course we did tonight was fish pie and we always make sure the soup is vegetarian. Last week we had a guy who is vegan so we did a pasta dish for him.”
This year, providing what people need has proven particularly difficult – and the people seeking shelter provide what appears to be a snapshot of the wider failings of Britain’s social safety net.
A report by housing charity Shelter revealed on Tuesday that homelessness in England had risen to 280,000 – an increase of 23,000, or 9%. London is the worst affected region, with a shocking one in 52 people now classed as homeless, but the highest rise has been in the north-west, where there has been a 117% increase.
Matthew Falk, 31, is the venue’s shelter manager. “Everyone has a story,” he says.
“We’ve had several guests who had been in hospital recently. Living on the street makes you more susceptible to getting sick. We had one guest who was undergoing chemotherapy and tonight we have one pregnant guest.
“If someone has no immune system they should be in a private residence.”