New site for ‘Quaker Open Christmas’ in London

190 volunteers help at the Quaker Open Christmas, held in a new location

One hundred and ninety volunteers helped out at the Quaker Open Christmas last month organised by Quaker Homeless Action (QHA).

Quaker and non-Quaker volunteers offered a range of shifts at the centre based for the first time at the American International Church on Tottenham Court Road in London. Previously, it was held at Union Chapel in Islington, London, for eleven years.

Katie Calvert, project coordinator and manager of QHA, told the Friend that, although exact figures are difficult to measure, the maximum capacity of 110 people, including volunteers, was often reached during the week 23-30 December 2018.

She said: ‘We’d taken a long hard look at what we were doing. One of the concerns was that our beds weren’t being used. We wanted to make sure we were providing something needed, and one of the things we thought we did best was our openness and welcome, so we decided to be open twenty-four hours a day and not offer beds.’

Hiring out beds requires form-filling and asking for specific information about dependency needs, immigration status, criminal records and mental health issues, which, she added, ‘some homeless people may find difficult. Or they may not be literate or want people to know where they are. Also, homeless people tend to have a more nocturnal lifestyle, perhaps because it is safer to sleep during the day than the night. What ended up happening, however, is that people came and went to sleep.’

The Open Christmas offered services including showers, psychotherapists, hairdressers, doctors, vets, sexual health professionals and chest X-rays. On Christmas Day, the organisation Streets Kitchen had a Christmas meal at Islington Town Hall and QHA provided transport there, or people could stay and have pizzas donated by the Franco Manca chain of restaurants.

Katie Calvert said: ‘Overall, it was really good and we had lots of people saying how much they loved it.’

QHA planned to keep the centre open until 2 January but closed it on 30 December due to a lack of volunteers.

You need to login to read subscriber-only content and/or comment on articles.