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4 June 2019

This winter marked the 20th anniversary of our church-based shelters. While capacity and demand grew unsteadily in the first ten years, the more recent trend has been clear[1]: more and more men and women are turning to Glass Door looking for shelter and support. The number of individuals who called the offices, stopped into a partner drop-in or went online to register for shelter rose by 42% this last winter alone.

This winter's shelter statistics highlight an increase in vulnerable individuals falling through the gaps in society's safety nets. While we could not accommodate all who turned to us, we were able to provide a warm welcome and support to more guests this past winter than ever before. 

Quick stats:

  • Demand: 1,852 individuals turned to us looking for shelter (1303 in 2017-2018)
  • 29 churches across four boroughs joined the shelter network (same as in 2017-2018)
  • 700 individuals joined shelters for average of 28 nights (643 / 26 nights in 2017-2018)
  • 18% (125) were women (117 in 2017-2018)
  • An average of 125 individuals stayed in the shelters per night (110 in 2017-2018)
  • 19,281 spaces for sleeping provided over the winter (up from 15,780 in 2017-2018 and a three-fold growth over ten years). 
  • Age range of guests: 17-83. Average age: 39.

The increase in the number of available bed spaces was largely due to the extension of the Richmond shelter circuit from a 12-week pilot project in 2018 to a full 22 weeks this past winter. Chief Operating Officer Lucy Abraham says:

Glass Door is dedicated to meeting the growing needs of some of the most vulnerable amongst us, and we have been able to achieve so much thanks to the commitment and sheer determination of so many in the community.

Behind each statistic are hundreds of individuals we call our guests, each with a unique story

At least six of our guests were pregnant while staying with us and four were wheel-chair users. All stayed with us while working with caseworkers to find more suitable long-term solutions. (Read "Martha's story" online).

The mixture of nationalities shifts year on year. This past winter, as usual, the largest nationality represented was British, with 215 guests staying with us at some point. The next two most common groups were Polish (77) and Romanian (63), followed by Eritrean (25).

A 25-year bloody war and a brutal dictatorship has left almost half-a-million Eritreans forcibly displaced, with thousands turning to England for asylum. “Isaac” for example, had applied for asylum but was destitute and homeless when his claim and appeal were refused. After staying with Glass Door when the shelters opened last November, we referred him to an immigration lawyer who agreed to fight his case. We then helped him find more permanent accommodation through a referral to a refugee-hosting project. His lawyer remains hopeful, and Isaac just wants to focus on his future goals, which are as simple as a job and a bed of his own.

Support available for vulnerable individuals

In addition to a rise in the number of guests hailing from Eritrea this past winter, Glass Door staff have also noted an increase in the number of victims of trafficking, labour exploitation and modern slavery turning to Glass Door for support. One woman we helped had been trafficked by her uncle and turned to us after escaping from forced servitude in a local London home.

Glass Door is increasingly assisting the growing number of vulnerable European nationals looking to understand their legal rights and status in the UK. We have applied for and received a grant from the Home Office allowing us to assist with EU Settlement Scheme applications. So far, 22 of our guests have successfully gone through the referral process. Three more are waiting on an outcome. 

Another trend, says Senior Caseworker Neil Parkinson, was an increase in people who have jobs turning to Glass Door.  Traditionally, we help people find jobs as a route out of homelessness. Now, Neil says:

We are sheltering and supporting more people who are working, but the jobs they hold may offer little to no security.

Guest feedback

The night shelters may only be able to offer space on the floor of a church hall, but our homeless guests tell us how much it meant.

We're particularly encouraged that guests felt more optimistic, more confident and more connected to other people than when they arrived. However, 64% felt their physical health had deteriorated since the beginning of their stay. We collect this feedback anonymously twice a year -- in the middle and at the end of shelter season. 

The survey also provides space to write in comments. The feedback included many expressions of thanks. On British man in his fifties wrote:

I am really touched by the help of everyone involved.


Another British man in his forties said:


This has saved my life.


Volunteer update

A record number of volunteers -- 1,463 -- registered with Glass Door this past year. Volunteers cooked and served over 29,745 dinners (22,165 in 2017-2018). Others helped in a range of roles, including serving breakfast, entering data, conducting research on flats and jobs, helping during women's group, providing haircuts and more.

We're particularly proud of the fact that their feedback on the experience has been overwhelmingly positive. 

volunteers help serve food and provide a warm welcome in the nightshelters

100% of the 346 volunteers who provided feedback said they would recommend Glass Door as a place to volunteer or support and 92% said they were either "extremely" or "very" satisfied with their volunteer experience.

Wrote one: 

I have gained so much from this experience. Volunteering for GD is one of the highlights of my week.


Volunteers reported they had spent 6.7 hours a month on average helping out in a shelter or day centre. Many were looking to volunteer more but had to share rotas with the many other individuals who offered their time and skills.

“This season is my 14th with Glass Door,” says Asitha Ameresekere, who is the volunteer coordinator for a shelter located in Kensington and Chelsea on Friday nights. He adds:

Over the years, it has become an integral part of my life. It has been hugely gratifying for me to see the shelter grow into the articulate organisation it is now. Getting to know the guests over a season has always been a humbling and enlightening experience for me. And playing a small role in making them feel safe, well-fed, and welcome for one evening a week is something I treasure.


Over 400 individuals took part in a fundraising event, many joining the annual Sleep Out in the Square, while other ran races, hiked trails and more. These fundraising volunteers have raised vital funds for our services, allowing Glass Door to continue to offer practical, effective measures that are saving and improving the lives of a growing number of vulnerable individuals who might otherwise be sleeping on the street. 


 [1]For more information on the charity's growth over the last twenty years, please see the Twenty-Year Review.

If you would like to work towards a future where no one has to sleep rough in London, join the Glass Door community.