Portsmouth churches throw open their doors again to help the homeless this winter 

A CHURCH-RUN homeless project in Portsmouth that transforms lives will continue next year – and run for twice as long.

‘Open church’ – where worshippers throw open their doors every night so homeless people can eat and sleep inside church buildings – will return on January 4 next year after its success this year.

One of the guests from last winter, Waldemar, trying out a bed inside St Simons Church, Southsea

One of the guests from last winter, Waldemar, trying out a bed inside St Simons Church, Southsea

The project, which is supported by the Society of St James (SSJ), a Hampshire charity that works with the homeless, will see a different church open its doors on a different night of the week. The scheme, which this year is for eight rather than four weeks, will run until March 4.

Seven churches took part in the pilot project in January and February – and the diocese says this made a ‘significant impact’ on the lives of the homeless people who took part.

Of the 10 homeless people involved, some gained employment experience through a work trial, others were housed, and one person returned to their home. One of those rehoused was a young pregnant woman, who was supported in temporary housing, funded by the churches, until her baby was born.

Project organiser Lorna Sandland, community development worker at St Simon’s Church, Southsea, said: ‘We committed ourselves last winter to a limited pilot scheme, giving a hot meal and a bed to the same 10 vulnerable people every night for four weeks.

‘Because our guests had the basics of food and accommodation sorted out they could flourish in a calmer atmosphere, build relationships and reflect on how to move on from their circumstances.

‘I was also impressed that 200 volunteers came forward from churches, offering to cook, build relationships with our guests and sleep overnight in church alongside them. Their generous hospitality helped to confirm that we should expand the project in 2019.

‘The need is definitely there. Currently there are around 200 people sleeping rough in Portsmouth and many choose not to use the beds that are currently available.

‘We hope that offering food, beds and a chance to make real friendships will encourage a greater take-up. The fact that we can offer the same venues as last winter certainly helps with this.’

The churches involved are St Jude’s, Southsea; St Simon’s, Southsea; Immanuel Baptist Church; King’s Church, Southsea; Eastney Methodist Church, Eastney; and St Swithun’s RC Church, Southsea.

The organisers have asked for donations of good quality bedding - duvets, duvet covers, sheets and pillows, plus pyjamas or sleepwear, towels and wash kits.

A training day will be held at St Jude’s Church, Southsea, from 7.30pm to 9pm on November 28, for volunteers who would like to be involved – as well as an opportunity to be DBS checked. Anyone interested can contact the project via St Jude’s parish office on office@sjs.church or (023) 9275 0442.