Temporary shelter reduces the number of rough sleepers in Stratford Centre over Christmas
PUBLISHED: 19:00 08 January 2019
A temporary homeless shelter set up saw 120 vulnerable people pass through its doors over the festive period.
Established by Stratford’s Seventh Day Adventist Church at the Carpenters and Docklands Community Centre, and with help from Newham Council, the shelter in Stratford provided a roof while many others shut down for Christmas.
For nine days, volunteers provided hot food, haircuts and health assessments, while an outreach team were on the streets, giving support to rough sleepers.
Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz helped out at the shelter on Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve, and volunteered with the outreach team on Christmas Day.
“Nothing can prepare you for the reality of individuals sleeping on the street,” she said.
“You can’t imagine the situations people find themselves in. There’s such a diversity of people on the street who need help, from those with addiction to complex mental health needs. The importance of doing this frontline skilled work is about ensuring we remain on top of the live issues.”
The shelter opened on Christmas Eve, with 50 beds and 15 volunteers per shift. Every guest had access to a health check, hair cut, and assessment from Newham’s street population manager, Ajitha Sajeev.
The shelter led to a temporary reduction in rough sleepers in the Stratford Centre, from 44 on Christmas Eve to 10 on December 29.
“The transformation was one of the biggest things I noticed,” Ajitha said.
“None of them really wanted to speak to us at the beginning, but by the end I have never seen so many hugs. When the barber came in we could see the guests almost became completely different people. There was one individual with a big bushy beard who never smiles, and once the barber was finished with him, he was grinning from ear to ear, and everyone in the hall applauded him.”
The centre closed on January 2, but the priority while guests were there was assessing them and signposting them to other services.
“One of the things Ajitha did was go through a series of assessments with all the guests,” Rokhsana said.
“We wanted to make sure they were appropriately placed in shelters, so come January 2 they weren’t going to be going back to the streets.
“To be able to relax and not worry about where you’d be sleeping the next night, that feeling was quite palpable. Over that nine day period the trauma they had clearly experienced diminshed somewhat because they knew there was this family and community here. We said this was a space of safety, and it became quite empowering.”