Our plans for winter 2021 were very different to usual, due to the Covid pandemic, which meant we were unable to provide overnight accommodation for our guests and could only offer hot meals, food parcels and some social support to our guests.

 

However, for winter 2022 we will be working in a very similar manner to pre-Covid years, but with a few adjustments in order to keep our guests, volunteers and staff safe from the ongoing pandemic.

 

Maidstone Churches Winter Shelter brings together Churches, Church members and Volunteers (both secular and non-secular) in Maidstone.

The Winter Shelter is a ‘rolling shelter’, meaning that the load is shared between church venues and teams.  During winter 2022, the shelter will use 5 different church venues, all close to Maidstone town centre, to provide meals and hospitality/support to our homeless guests and anyone else who is in NEED of a hot meal.

 

Any homeless guests who require a bed for the night will then, subject to an assessment process, be offered a bed at a rented, supervised property for the night.  Breakfast will be provided the following morning before guests leave the property for the day.

The shelter will open on Monday 3rd January 2022 and run until the morning of Friday 1st April 2022, covering the coldest months of the winter.

During our first winter (2013/14) we offered 10 bed spaces to our guests per night, but we have offered up to 15 bed spaces per night in subsequent years. 

However, Maidstone Borough Council have once again been offered Government funding to help keep people off the streets this winter, so we are anticipating a reduction in our number of overnight guests.  We are planning to have 4 x overnight rooms, but have a contingency plan if this number needs to be increased.  Our aim is to ensure that nobody is left to sleep on the streets during the coldest months of the winter.

We have a determined board of Trustees who ensure our Aims are fulfilled each year.  We also have a small team of part-time staff who oversee the Shelter Operations and an administrator/volunteer co-ordinator to deal with the admin duties required in running the shelter and keeping volunteers informed. 

We are supported by a large team of volunteers, whose support is invaluable to the success of the shelter.  Our volunteers: 

  • support our guests during afternoon 'drop in sessions'

  • set up the Shelter each night

  • cook and serve an evening meal

  • provide hospitality and a safe environment for our guests to eat and relax

  • provide breakfast and a packed lunch the following morning before the guests leave for the day. 

 

What we do

Maidstone Churches Winter Shelter brings together Churches, Church members and Volunteers (both secular and non-secular) in Maidstone.  

 

Since the winter shelter first opened its doors in December 2013, we have adapted and changed according to experience and circumstances.

Each winter we open for 3 months in order to provide a hot meal and a safe, warm overnight stay for Maidstone's street homeless population.  However, we have also extended our offer of hot meals to include people in temporary accommodation with little or no cooking facilities, plus others IN NEED of a hot meal and support.

Our shelters are hosted by churches across Maidstone. For the first 7 winters, we operated on a 'rolling night shelter' basis meaning the load was shared between church venues and teams, with each venue offering one night per week from which we could serve a hot meal, a listening ear, a bed for the night (dormitory style in the church hall) and breakfast the following morning.

In the first winter (2013/14) we offered up to 10 bed spaces each night, but this was increased to 15 bed spaces from 2014-15 up to and including winter 2019-20.

 

In addition to our evening meals/accommodation, we hold afternoon registration sessions at which we provide hot drinks, snacks and a time to just 'chill' in a warm, comfortable setting.  At these sessions, our Project Team take time to chat with the guests and encourage them to engage with Maidstone Borough Council, The Day Centre and other services, to obtain support and advice on benefits/jobs and housing, in order to help get them off the streets for good.

Our activities were restricted somewhat during winter 2020-21, at the height of the Covid pandemic, as the Government stated that no-one should be placed in 'dormitory style' accommodation, so our usual practice of setting up beds in church halls could not be used.  However, Maidstone Borough Council received Government funding under the 'Everyone In' scheme, which enabled them to accommodate most of our local street homeless in hotel/B&B rooms or other types of temporary accommodation.

As much of the 'emergency' temporary accommodation lacked adequate cooking facilities and in order to continue providing support, we liaised with Maidstone Borough Council and we offered hot, home-cooked meals to those people who had been placed in such accommodation, together with food parcels where required.

 

During this challenging period, we also offered hot meals to individuals and families in need, distributing them via the local food bank at The Salvation Army.  The pandemic meant that many people were struggling to make ends meet or had lost their jobs, with the unenviable decision of whether to pay rent and bills or put food on the table.  These people were potentially the future homeless, so the hot meals we distributed via the food banks hopefully helped to ease this burden in some small way.

 

Although the Covid virus continued to be a concern during winter 2021-22, restrictions had started to ease somewhat.  However, dormitory-style sleeping was still considered a 'last resort' option.  

In view of this, we planned to operate in a similar way as earlier years, with afternoon registration sessions and evening meals in church halls, but with our overnight guests staying in a rented house rather than in the dormitory style arrangement we had used in the past.

The house was chosen and should have been ready for our commencement in early January, but unfortunately there were problems with the lease which led to  ongoing delays.  Whilst these problems continued, we placed our overnight guests in a local hotel.  They still came to us for registration and dinner, so had the ongoing opportunity for meals, support and company before returning to their rooms each evening.

By the time the rented property became available we only had 5 weeks left to run and both the time and costs involved in opening the property for the last few weeks were considered unviable by our trustees.  Also, the number of guests requiring overnight accommodation was low during the winter, so we continued to accommodate them at a local hotel for the duration of the shelter.

 

Whilst our plans for winter 2022 didn't work out entirely as expected, we still provided the support, meals and accommodation that we had originally offered, but in an adapted way.

We have a determined board of Trustees who ensure our Aims are fulfilled each year.  We also have a small team of part-time staff who oversee the Shelter Operations and an Administrator/Volunteer co-ordinator to deal with the admin duties required in running the shelter and keeping volunteers informed. 

We are supported by many willing volunteers who give their time, dedication, patience and experience to enable the shelter to open each evening and to provide the help and support our guests need.  We simply couldn't run the shelter without them and we are truly grateful for the support from our volunteers each year!

 

moving on

Whilst in the Shelter, our guests are encouraged and supported to liaise with other organisations such as Maidstone Borough Council Outreach team, Maidstone Day Centre, CGL (Change, Grow, Live) in order to support them with access to benefits/employment and into accommodation (temporary or permanent), helping them to move off the streets for good.