What a difference a few months make!
On 22 November the rain finally stopped falling after weeks of wet weather. The river was high and underfoot the ground was drenched but still the brave few assembled in the church yard for the 5th annual sleepout in support of Wycombe Homeless Connection.
Many had cancelled, deciding the sensible action was to keep warm and dry at home – a choice street sleepers do not have.
Despite the ground conditions, nobody chose to sleep in the church. A time of fellowship and fun (?) was had by all while money was raised for this worthwhile local cause. Disappointedly, but not unsurprising, less than usual in Marlow.
Move on two months. The Wycombe Night Shelter was full most nights with 12 guests. In addition WHC and the local authority were housing another 20+ High Wycombe street sleepers in bed and breakfast accommodation, the latter an initiative due to finish at the end of the month.
Coronavirus was just beginning to be mentioned as a possible health threat. The decision was taken to keep the B&B accommodation going for a further month while the threat receded.
By the first week in March it was obvious the threat was becoming a reality. Risk assessments concluded that it was unsafe to keep the shelter open. Because of their lifestyles, homeless people are in the most vulnerable category. It’s almost impossible to keep clean or to self-isolate if you are living on the streets.
A large proportion of the volunteers manning the shelter also fall into the vulnerable category. WHC has 14 volunteers from our team churches – not all, I quickly add, in the high risk category! The shelter had to close immediately. But the idea of abandoning our guests at such a time was unthinkable.
Wycombe Homeless Connection has placed EVERYONE on the shelter list (some 17+) into additional B&B accommodation, initially for the rest of March, but as the situation worsened, for April too. It is obviously expensive and WHC is digging into its reserves to cover the cost.
Throughout this time the staff at WHC will provide food parcels to and continue to work extensively with the 37+ B&B guests, although obviously some precautions are necessary.
WHC is anticipating an increased demand for its services as the situation worsens. Although the way it operates must change, the support centre will continue to be manned by WHC staff. It’s 400+ Volunteers have been stepped down for the duration. Development plans put on hold while everyone focuses on the ever changing situation.
So what can we do?
First and foremost, pray.
For the guests as they find ways to navigate the extra challenges they face. It is a time of great uncertainty for them and some are losing the little work they had. Please pray that they keep engaging with WHC, they stay confident in WHC, and that WHC can help them keep hope alive.
Pray for wisdom and health for the staff team so they can continue to run the services well.
Another way to help is to donate. WHC has launched an appeal in response to the corona virus. If you can, any gift will help to ensure the services continue and nobody is street sleeping at this time.
To donate, please visit: www.wyhoc.org.uk/urgent-appeal
What a difference a few months can make. Let’s pray that the social changes we see over the next few months will result in a more caring society for all, including our homeless population.
Keep safe and well.
This article, written by Muriel Reynolds, featured in the Easter 2020 edition of The Bridge – the magazine for All Saints’ Church in Marlow. Pick up your free copy in church or download it here.