Hatfield’s Night Shelter: comfort + food brings joy
13th January 2020
This article first appeared in issue 2 of Alban Life (March 2019) – a quarterly printed magazine which is distributed to all parishes in the diocese. Click here to read more articles from the ‘Alban Bites’ blog.
Hatfield’s Night Shelter is a remarkable story of community and business co-operation, of repurposing a building, of community engagement, of seeking social justice and of putting the needs of the most vulnerable first.
No wonder it is a story that not only bears telling but which should bear emulation. Out of it has come a fresh vision for a building. With over 100 parishes running or supporting night shelters the chances are that there are other parishes in different environments that have also made this kind of social engagement work.
Hatfield Night Shelter has been providing food and shelter for 10 homeless people since 2017. It has been ‘standing in the gap’ with volunteer cooks and night wardens while a permanent shelter for homeless people run by the charity ‘Resolve’ is expected to open very shortly. Ordinand Kathryn Alford has been inviting, cajoling (gently) and co-ordinating volunteers to see that meals are provided and ‘overnight angels’ are available.
It’s been a fine example of the body of Christ in action: together all the parts can achieve what to individuals seems impossible. It may not be the feeding of the five thousand, but five hundred meals have easily been served this winter.
St Luke’s Church Hatfield is a former cemetery chapel which was opened in 1878, a year after the Diocese of St Albans was. The congregation in recent years has been small and quite elderly for the most part.
Events following a serious fire in Hatfield in 2015 in which a young homeless man died led to community figures asking the churches of Hatfield if they had any hall space to offer for a homeless shelter. Team Rector, Fr Darren Collins, had no halls to offer but persuaded the people of St Luke’s to offer their church. They not only agreed to his suggestion, but accepted that the shelter would be a 7 day a week operation, involving some sacrifice to get the building ready on Sunday mornings for worship, clearing away beds and tables.
Objections commonly raised to projects like this are that churches are set aside for worship and shouldn’t be used for anything else especially something that might not be perceived as ‘Holy’. But caring for the most vulnerable is arguably an equally holy purpose, even if the church no longer smells of incense, but of old socks and people of the road. And as Pope Francis remarked: “The shepherd should smell of the sheep.”
The operation is run to a very high standard and run by a Steering Group. Everyone who volunteers is trained according to the Housing Justice framework, which is a standard-setter in this area. Those seeking the Night Shelter’s help are ‘triaged’ according to Housing Justice’s guidelines and the shelter is capable of caring for those passing ‘green’ or ‘amber’ but not ‘red,’ who are left to Resolve’s care. So the relationship with Resolve also provides cover which keeps the Night Shelter within its limits of capability.
What was only a stop-gap and which started with a prompt from the community about people’s suffering became not just a means of alleviating the suffering but something which brought in its wake some significant new life to the church.
When Resolve open their permanent shelter shortly, it will add more capacity than the Night Shelter’s ten places have provided and will be able to handle people with deeper problems.
The Night Shelter has always been more than a stop-gap though. As Fr Darren says: “It’s not just about giving people a bed, it’s about moving them on to the next stage, giving them a life.” And the parish has also found a new vision for their building as a flexible community space.
- Shelter reported that 320,000 people were homeless in Britain (2018)
- This is up 13,000 on 2017
- That means, based on the population estimates for 2017, that 1 in 200 people in Britain are homeless.
- Authorities in St Albans Diocese among the worst 50 for homelessness in early 2018: Luton (1 in 49) Broxbourne (1 in 83) and Watford (1 in 164)
- There were over 20,000 homeless people in the Eastern Region in 2018