The third contactless donation station in Bristol launched last week at Bristol Energy. It’s a quick and easy way for people to donate £2 direct to the four city night shelters.
Since the original launch in May for the two stations in Broadmead Shopping Quarter they have taken approximately £3,000.
The night shelters are free for the people who use them but St Mungo’s and the other charities we work with rely on fundraising and donations to keep them open.
Heather Lister volunteers at the 365 night shelter. She tells us why and what it is like to offer support to some of the most vulnerable people in our community.
‘I really enjoy working at the 365 shelter’
I volunteer at the 365 shelter with my husband, Richard, once a fortnight. The shelter is in a Quaker Meeting House, and can accommodate 15 homeless people overnight. Two volunteers attend each night, with experienced members of staff on call.
Why do I volunteer? We all see daily evidence of suffering, need, misfortune and injustice – I want to do my bit to try to make things better. It’s hard to ignore; misfortune and homelessness can affect anybody. Recently one of my sons became homeless when a long-term relationship broke down. Luckily, he could rely on family support – many cannot.
I don’t think there are any special qualities that volunteers need, other than being happy to listen to troubles and triumphs, and having a conviction that this support is worthwhile – it is appreciated and it works.
I really enjoy working at the 365 shelter. I don’t believe hardship and poverty improve anyone’s character or mental health – people may not be responsible for their situation, but they can still feel deep shame and become angry and depressed.
But often we see the best of people – keeping their spirits up, being kind and hopeful, showing courage. I think we as volunteers can help people sustain this by being respectful and encouraging towards them.
I can do little to change guests’ circumstances, but maybe I can play a small part in helping them endure and respond positively to help. So it’s enough that they appear pleased to see me, enjoy talking to me, and leave the shelter after a good night’s sleep with a smile and a lighter step.
‘What we do’
Richard and I arrive at about 9.45pm to get things ready before guests arrive at 10.30pm. The first thing we do is check supplies (tea, coffee and sugar) and look through the hand-over book, where everyone who attends each night is recorded. We check whether there are any likely problems or considerations – we may be asked to give a guest a message or remind them of an appointment. Guests are referred by St Mungo’s, and we are given a list of people to expect. St Mungo’s tell us of any special medical conditions or needs people might have.
Each guest is supplied with a camp bed and a plastic box with a sheet, duvet and pillow. When the guests arrive they find their boxes, set up their beds and have a welcoming cup of tea and a chat. First-timers are asked to sign an agreement comprising a few simple rules, and we help them settle in and see how things work. Guests are asked to arrive by 11.15pm. Many are exhausted, and all seem happy to get their heads down by about midnight. We provide ear-plugs (for the snoring!) Richard and I doze off on sofas just outside the “dormitory.”
‘People coming to the 365 shelter are diverse’
People usually start stirring at about 6.30am. At 6.45am gentle prompting such as drawing back curtains gets everyone else moving. There’s another cup of tea or coffee, and off they go with our good wishes. Showers are available at The Compass Centre however, Bristol Quakers plan to build showers and laundry facilities at the Meeting House, which are much needed.
People coming to the 365 shelter are diverse – in age, background and circumstances. Not all are without jobs – we’ve known some to get up well before 6.30am to travel to work. Some move on from the shelter quite quickly, being already on their way to getting their own accommodation. All are engaging with services. A camp-bed in a dormitory isn’t ideal, but it’s a warm, safe place to stay, and hopefully prevents many people in temporary difficulty from becoming stuck in a harsh, dangerous lifestyle in which it is easy to lose hope.
Ours is a simple provision. We’ve thought of organising evening meals, but this would need more volunteers to do an evening shift, and there are other places providing free food in Bristol.
If you would like to volunteer at any of the four city night shelters please contact the following people:
St Mungo’s night assessment shelter: Sommer.Rouse@mungos.org
Julian Trust night shelter: firstname.lastname@example.org
Caring in Bristol 365 shelter: Alex.email@example.com
Spring of Hope women’s night shelter: firstname.lastname@example.org
You can also make an online donation via the SOSBristol fundsurfer page.