King's Lynn Winter Night Shelter co-ordinator reflects on facility's first year
As Lynn’s Winter Night Shelter’s first season draws to a close this month, the Lynn News has spoken to co-ordinator Lucy McKitterick about the scheme’s initial run.
The facility, which first opened its doors to homeless guests in November, is set to welcome its final visitors on the evening of March 31, until it opens again later this year.
So far this season, the shelter on St Ann’s Fort, which can host up to 23 guests per night, has helped 90 different people.
Miss McKitterick said: “It’s about twice what I was expecting really, it’s one of those things which is impossible for anyone to tell really before you start out.
“Some of those people were just for one night and some for several months, and everything in between.”
The project, led by Lynn’s Churches Together group, grew out of a pilot scheme which ran two nights a week the previous winter and helped 45 people in all.
As an open access shelter, anyone can present themselves at the facility, or they might be referred there by another agency.
The shelter opens at 7pm and it closes at 9am the following day. In that time, guests are served dinner and breakfast.
With the nearby Purfleet Trust closing at 5pm, people can often be seen waiting outside the shelter until it opens, Miss McKitterick said.
Guests have to be 18 or older to stay, and are signed in on arrival.
“We did have someone come on his 18th birthday, he had been in care,” Miss McKitterick said.
“It’s really hard to see someone celebrate their 18th birthday here.”
The oldest guests have been in their 70s, and around one fifth of those who stay are women.
Miss McKitterick said women stay in separate rooms to men, and if there is an issue with the number of beds available, they will liaise with Merchants’ Terrace on London Road, run by Genesis Housing Association, which has emergency beds.
Those who are disabled, or those who staff might want to observe, sleep in a downstairs room.
“We are here for the most fragile people who are very vulnerable in the cold weather,” Miss McKitterick added.
“We are starting out from a point of ‘let’s save lives’.”
Miss McKitterick said there have been some “very positive move-ons” recently – referring to those who no longer need the shelter’s services.
“I always say to our volunteers, the fact that everybody doesn’t move into a house or a flat doesn’t mean we have done badly,” she added.
“We can lose sight of what we have done sometimes. We are not a housing agency – I think what we can help with mostly is interacting and providing a stable place.
“When people have quite difficult lives, we are always a friendly face, and that can make a huge difference to people.”
And there are many friendly faces at the shelter, as this season they have had 130 volunteers on the books, up from 40 last year, in addition to five members of staff – who all work on a rota basis.
“We have found this a good building to be in – it’s very homely,” Miss McKitterick said.
“We are like one big family.”
The community support has played an important part in the shelter’s success, too, with stockrooms packed full of donations of toiletries, groceries and blankets.
Miss McKitterick said the shelter is very “drug aware”, and guests are asked to sign a form stating they are not bringing any illegal substances into the building.
She added that she has been “surprised at how little trouble” there has been over the season, though there have been some minor disputes between guests.
“If you ask 23 out of 90 people of any background, sometimes they will fall out, it’s quite normal,” she said.
“But we’ve seen healthy friendships formed here. It’s brought so many people together.”
Three people have been banned this season, but this is not enforced as a “punishment”, and only if it is deemed necessary for safety reasons.
Miss McKitterick said: “Most people are ashamed of being on the streets, it’s almost never their own fault.”
She said a common theme among guests is a history of some kind of trauma.
“People need to be more understanding really,” she added.
“Until they are feeling in a better place about themselves, turning up to appointments and filling out applications is far harder.”
The subsequent steps, after closing the shelter’s doors on the morning of April 1, is to fundraise for the next season.
Miss McKitterick said they will need to raise £90,000 to support the shelter over the next winter period.
At this stage, it is anticipated that the night shelter will be open for five months again come the end of the year.
To donate, visit mydonate.bt.com/charities/kingslynnwinternightshelter.
Alternatively cheques can be posted to 5 St Ann’s Fort, King’s Lynn, PE30 1QS.
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