Quaker Homeless Action fields two Christmas shelters

Concern about homelessness grows

Hot dinners were available every evening | Photo: Trish Carn

Christmas 2010 saw a new enterprise undertaken by Quaker Homeless Action (QHA) in central London. A youth shelter was pioneered in anticipation of further needs arising in 2011 as the cuts to housing benefit and other benefits bite. According to the Shelter website: ‘Under the current rules, if you are single, under the age of twenty-five and rent from a private landlord, you will normally only be entitled to enough housing benefit to cover the average cost of a single room in a shared house in your area. This is the case even if you have a place of your own. This rule is often known as the “single room rent restriction”… this restriction will be extended to under thirty-fives – it has not yet been announced when this will happen.’

Tim Nicholls, clerk of QHA, commented: ‘the change in housing benefit will force people out of already existing tenancies, and could happen largely unexpectedly. One of QHA’s main concerns is that many vulnerable people, who are struggling to maintain their tenancies at the moment, will not cope with this shift in government policy and will be forced out of their tenancies with little or no safety net to protect them.’

The youth shelter provides safe, warm, overnight accommodation as well as a hot evening meal, breakfast and sandwiches for the young people to take with them for the time they are out of the shelter. This time is used to clean and prepare for the evening.

Just after Christmas I visited the youth shelter based in Caledonian Road Methodist Church and spoke to some of the young people there. They were all very appreciative of the help given by QHA in partnership with the Pilion Trust. Twenty-year-old Alice* told me how she came to be homeless: ‘I was living with my sister and we argued as sisters do. Then we had a big blow-up and she told me to get out. I did, foolishly, and went back the next day thinking it could be sorted out but I was wrong. I went to Lambeth, my local council, and they helped me find the shelter and put me in touch with New Horizons near Kings Cross. They are helping me with applying to “uni” and updating my CV.’

Aaron* told me: ‘I was a trainee sous chef, but my father died and my mother “kicked me out of the pram”. I lost my job as I couldn’t keep myself clean on the streets.’ Two of the other young men did not have enough English to describe their predicaments.

The accommodation provided was eminently suitable with two side areas for sleeping and a central area set up in sections: ‘homelike’ couches around a television, a billiard table and eating area plus a games console with adjacent kitchen and bathrooms.

QHA also ran their normal shelter at the Union Chapel in north London, again with the Pilion Trust.

* names have been changed.

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