I’m quite overwhelmed this year by the support given to the Glasgow Winter Night Shelter. I’m also challenged by the number of people calling for the extension of the service and to go beyond delivering a 13 week emergency service. Your passion for this work is precious and I want to try an answer your question as best I can.
Closing the night shelter at the end of the season is never an easy thing for us to do. Our team all ache in the knowledge that for some, they’ll be back on the streets.
Yet the situation is complicated as I’m sure you can imagine. In fact I personally find myself going backwards and forwards in my mind wrestling with running an all year shelter, the pros and cons. There isn’t an easy answer, but I want to share with you the arguments and what we feel we can do.
Tackle root causes and create stability
Homelessness is a symptom of many other things that are broken. While many believe addiction is the main cause of homelessness it is actually relationship breakdown that is one of the main factors leading to homelessness. Shelters, while important and often lifesaving, don’t provide long-term solutions for those who are homeless. We want to see an end to homelessness and tackle the root causes of it and prevent it in the first place.
As well as tackling the causes of homelessness, we need to provide stable environments for people to heal and grow, this often means accommodation with intensive support to move forward, and we need to help people to take steps to improve their circumstances. Glasgow has a shortage of accommodation, and needs a blend of all types of accommodation to suit a variety of different scenarios.
The Glasgow Winter Night Shelter operates as a conduit over the winter months directing and plugging users into the local authority services and those of other providers including our own city centre project. It also acts as an emergency shelter during the harshest months of the winter. The local authority has a duty of care for many of those we serve at the night shelter, and we want Glasgow City Council to deliver on their responsibility. We believe this is a significant step forward and worth our while investing our time and resources as it has the potential to provide sustainable improvements. If we increase the length of our service we’re also nervous that the shelter becomes an accepted norm in our society rather than highlighting the scandal that homelessness is. It also could prevent the local authority from tackling the issue if they sense that we’ll always provide a service.
I’m nervous to talk about costs, only that I don’t want to be use costs per say as a reason not to do something. However to give you an idea of the challenge ahead of us, if we increased our service to include November and March our costs would jump from around £55,000 to at least £115,000. Some of the increase in cost is because we would need to increase our staffing numbers to accommodate the scope for service. Furthermore we’d need more volunteers willing to give up their time. We were short of volunteers this year and extending the time increases the commitment. It’s possible – but it’s a challenge.
A year round issue
It’s also desperately sad that people die on the streets during the summer months; all too often the people we work with die in violent crime or drug overdose. We want to work all year round to prevent this from happening.
Many of those that financially support the work of the Glasgow Winter Night Shelter are suppliers of accommodation to vulnerable people and they are working tirelessly in their efforts to help people move into supported accommodation. Any decision to extend the service would be taken in partnership with those who help us provide the service. The decision would also need to be made in September or October during the planning stages of the initiative to ensure the correct ratio of staff are employed.
An end to homelessness
One of our objectives is that in the future there is no need for the Glasgow Winter Night Shelter. To achieve this, other services need to improve and we’ll only know if this is happening if numbers start to drop at the night shelter. Looking at the data this year our service is still very much needed.
I hope this memo doesn’t sound as though we have comfortably come to our conclusions. We weep with the knowledge that every night in Glasgow there are people sleeping rough and we want to help. I also hope that this memo doesn’t appear as an excuse for doing less because – we feel compelled to do more – we must find a way of doing more which has the most impact. It mustn’t become about what makes me feel better, but rather what genuinely makes the best impact on people who have chaotic lifestyles.
Unfortunately increasing the time that we run the service for isn’t a decision that can be made at the last minute. The shelter requires a significant amount of planning and once the dates are set, staff are brought on board for a particular time.
Can I reassure you that there will be discussions about running next years’ service for a longer period and I will do my best to express the depth of feeling from our supporters to the other partners involved with the night shelter.
Can I personally thank you for your support, interest, prayers and passion and I look forward to working with many of you again in providing a much needed service.