An update from Quaker Social Action on work related to homelessness.
In December 2020 Quaker Homeless Action (QHA) became part of Quaker Social Action (QSA) through a planned merger. QSA is privileged to take on responsibility for advancing QHA’s mission to offer fellowship, practical assistance to and a voice for homeless and marginalised people in Britain.
Prior to the merger, QHA ran two main projects, both in London: a mobile library for people affected by homelessness, and Quaker Open Christmas – a winter shelter which was last run in 2019. QSA launched Turn a Corner, a project based on the mobile library, in summer 2020 and we are currently advertising for volunteer van drivers and mobile library volunteers.
After careful consideration and discernment, QSA has decided not to run a winter shelter in 2021, and has no plans to do so in the future. We acknowledge all that was achieved by QHA in running Quaker Open Christmas up until 2019 – providing a warm, non-bureaucratic and dignified experience for people experiencing homelessness. Yet running a winter shelter is not without risks: it was acknowledged that, in seeking to provide an inclusive service for homeless guests with wide-ranging, complex and often unknown needs – run mainly by highly committed but non-specialist volunteers – safety was inevitably a major concern. This was before the additional complications of Covid-19.
We have concluded that we are not as well placed as other organisations to run a winter shelter; there are others who are better equipped in terms of experience, relationships, and in some cases resources. The large impact which can be made by organisations already working on the streets, with a pre-existing network of partners, was demonstrated to QSA when we made a £10,000 grant to a grassroots Covid-19 Homeless Taskforce. The taskforce was able to utilise these funds to provide a wide range of support to homeless people during the 2020/21 winter months including accommodation for a small number of people, and many thousands of meals and interactions across nine London boroughs, as well as helping to supply tents, sleeping bags, and many other practical items.
QSA is keen to develop homelessness-related services which play to our strengths as a relatively small, but creative and collaborative organisation. In particular we want to be true to our overall ethos: supporting people to seek their own solutions to the issues affecting their lives. During the pandemic, we undertook a piece of research to try and identify unmet needs affecting people who experience homelessness. In other words, what were the gaps in service provision that QSA could potentially help to fill? In light of this research QSA is currently piloting Cook Up, in Islington: a way for people without access to a kitchen to prepare their own meals in a safe and supported environment.
We at QSA acknowledge that our decision not to start a winter shelter project will be a disappointment to former volunteers and supporters of QHA, especially those who committed their time, energy and money to make Quaker Open Christmas the success that it was: in 2019, the project accommodated 25-30 sleepers per night, and provided a range of services to over 120 visitors per day.
As we look to the future, QSA wishes to record its appreciation for all of the people – mostly Quakers – who contributed to the achievements of QHA’s Quaker Open Christmas over many years.