CHURCH COLUMN: Opening up to rough sleepers in Portsmouth

HOPE Some Portsmouth churches are throwing open their doors this winter for a trial period to help  alleviate the homeless problem in the city
HOPE Some Portsmouth churches are throwing open their doors this winter for a trial period to help alleviate the homeless problem in the city
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LORNA SANDLAND, community development worker at St Simon’s, Southsea, on plans for the homeless this winter

I’M PLEASED our project to invite homeless people to sleep in our churches this winter has gone down so well.

It’s called Open Church, and involves churches opening their doors to show God’s love to rough sleepers.

It’s a pilot project for four weeks in January and February and we want to see how it goes before deciding what to do next.

We’ve offered to host 10 homeless people each night as we think we’ll have enough volunteers to cope.

Each church will open its doors on a different day of the week. Volunteers from one will feed and host homeless people overnight on a Monday, another church will open on a Tuesday and so on.

Each rough sleeper will be referred to us by the Society of St James (SSJ), a Hampshire charity already working with the homeless. Among the churches involved are St Jude’s, St Simon’s, Immanuel Baptist and Kings Church in Southsea.

The Rev Adam Denley, the curate at St Jude’s, and I led an information evening last week for potential volunteers and we were pleased people were so positive about getting involved.

We’re also delighted to be working with SSJ, which last winter provided shelter for between up to 45 homeless people each night, on behalf of the city council.

SSJ will runn a similar Winter Bed Scheme this year and offer training and support to volunteers.

It’s not the only thing local churches do to help the homeless. The annual Christmas voucher scheme run by Churches Homeless Action allows churchgoers to buy Christmas gifts for the homeless and vulnerable families.

Sunday Suppers at St Simon’s have provided a hot meal for homeless people every Sunday for the past 27 years.

Breakthru at St Simon’s teaches new skills to the homeless, those struggling with addiction or facing mental health issues; and the Friday Fridge at St Jude’s, helps those with similar issues.

We hope all these projects break down barriers between those who attend our churches and those who happen to be homeless. Our aim is to bring permanent and positive change in the lives of those who are in difficult circumstances for whatever reason.