Too many people are having to use night shelters run by churches, charity reports

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THE number of people who have had to use church and community night shelters has doubled in the past four years, a new report suggests.

Nearly 3000 people used night shelters last winter: a 53-per-cent rise on the numbers using them the previous winter, and double the number in 2012.

The statistics were published by the Christian charity Housing Justice, which described them as “appalling”. Most of those using the night shelters would not be recorded in official figures on homelessness, since the shelters are open for only a portion of the year.

HOUSING JUSTICEResting: guests at the Inn Churches shelter project, BradfordThe chief executive of Housing Justice, Kathy Mohan, said: “Today’s figures show that the housing crisis is becoming a homelessness crisis, with such a significant rise in the numbers of people being forced to sleep on camp beds in church halls up and down the country .

“Typically, guests staying in night shelters will not be recorded in street-counts and official measures of homelessness. Street rough-sleeping, and potentially street fatalities, would be higher without these incredible projects and their volunteers. Tonight, and throughout the winter, thousands of people will put in a shift at their local shelter to give hospitality to those experiencing homelessness. But these appalling numbers must be a wake-up call to local authorities and to the Government that a significant number of people are relying on voluntary services for that most basic of essentials: shelter.”

Figures released by the Government-spending watchdog the Audit Office, this summer, showed a 134-per-cent rise in rough-sleepers since 2010, and a 60-per-cent rise in the number of families living in temporary accommodation.

Church and community night shelters are run by volunteers who open up church halls or other faith centres or buildings to provide emergency shelter during the winter months. Guests are provided with bedding, a camp bed, and a hot meal. The shelters receive no public funding; yet the number of shelters opening each winter has increased markedly, from 65, two years ago, to 107.

Last year, each shelter remained open on average for 102 nights, and 40 per cent of guests stayed in the shelter for less than a week; 30 per cent stayed longer than a month. Across the night-shelter network, 4284 volunteers served in the shelters, contributing a total of 273,605 hours.

Housing Justice runs the project Church and Community Night Shelters to encourage and equip new night shelters, and offers training to volunteers.

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