A guest at the shelter run in partnership with St Mark’s Battersea Rise checks his phone after lights out. Words and pictures by James Hopkirk
The winter shelter: A night with Glass Door
April 17, 2017
Excerpt from James Hopkirk's blog: Lambeth: Living with the cuts:
Last month I spent a night at a winter homeless shelter in Wandsworth, run by the charity Glass Door. I wanted to understand why rough sleeping in England has risen so relentlessly since 2010 – up 16% last year and 30% the year before. I talked to guests, staff and volunteers about the disparate problems that had brought people there, the Government cutbacks that are making the situation worse, and what life on the streets of South London is really like…
When I arrive at St Mark’s, Peter is already waiting outside. We nod hello to each other and then Ben, Glass Door’s Night Shelter Manager, lets us in. It’s 6.30pm, an hour and a half before the doors officially open, and the volunteers are busy preparing for the evening’s guests.
There are seven churches on this borough’s circuit, each responsible for one night of the week. It’s a simple set up: sleeping bags and mats on the floor, coffee, tea, dinner and breakfast, in and out in 11 hours. Ben is overseeing tonight’s programme, but volunteers will cook and serve the food.
What makes Glass Door different from some other winter shelters is that they will take pretty much anyone – including drug addicts, people with profound mental health problems and ex-offenders with a history of violence.
Some temporary shelters, including Lambeth’s equivalent scheme, Robes, are run entirely by volunteers. They provide a vital service, but they’re not equipped to manage the highest risk clients. Glass Door’s model is to be open to all, and so they hire paid, trained staff, as well as recruiting volunteers, so that they can accept more challenging referrals.
I learnt about Glass Door through Ace of Clubs, the day centre for homeless people in Clapham where I’ve spent time over the last year. They regularly refer people to Glass Door, including those the other shelters won’t take.
As the sun goes down over the South Circular, it’s a relatively warm March evening. There will be no frost tonight. But the improvement in the weather is bittersweet for the guests here. It marks the end of winter shelter season. Nine days after my stay temporary shelters like this start to close across the capital. Those guests who haven’t found housing will go back to sleeping on the streets.
There are a few shelters that open year-round, but they are heavily oversubscribed and Government cuts to local authority budgets have ensured that what beds remain are declining. Follow-on accommodation – bridging the gap between shelters and proper tenancies – is now almost non-existent in London.
Glass Door sleeps around 95 people each night from November to early April across their three circuits – Wandsworth, Hammersmith and Fulham and Kensington and Chelsea. “Without much effort we could fill that again,” says Ben. “I think the waiting list has never got below 70.”
Night Shelter Manager Ben (left) briefs some of the volunteers at the start of the evening. Volunteers cook, serve the food and eat with the guests.
Read the rest of James' blog, including profiles and photos of Peter, James, Ben and others who share a spot in the shelter with the author....