As the temperatures drop and the nights shorten, most people’s thoughts turn to how to “survive” the run-up to Christmas; spare a thought, then, for those who face a more elementary kind of survival; sleeping rough.  Thanks to the efforts of a dedicated group of volunteers across Merton’s YMCA and a number of faith charities, up to twelve of Merton’s homeless selected by YMCA are offered shelter from December to March each year across seven faith venues.

“Guests need to commit to spending every night in the shelter; each venue operates on the same night each week and so guests move around; they must observe house rules, be free of addiction and of any possibility of being disruptive”, explains Josie Knox, a regular volunteer at Wimbledon Synagogue, one of the venues which I visited in early December. 

I found a warm, homely atmosphere. The Synagogue provided an ideal setting, with separate sections for dining, sleeping, relaxing, and a raised area offering privacy for guests needing advice on practical matters including preparing a CV, welfare or health issues. Guests enjoy shower facilities at this venue, and a stall was laid out with clean clothes, new (socks and under-garments) and donated (warm coats, trousers, hoodies, shoes and boots). Volunteer cooks were busy preparing a nourishing and comforting evening meal, to be taken all together, guests and volunteers at one long, elegantly laid table. Breakfast was also supplied. The guests appeared friendly and calm and the atmosphere was convivial. Tea, coffee and biscuits were available on tap.  The volunteers were kind and discreet, and clearly enjoyed their work.  It was a heart-warming experience and just shows what a difference some regular support and donations can make.  The initiative is supported by the Faith in Action Homeless Shelter charity.