Sleepless to serve

What does a night at the Glasgow Winter Night Shelter look like? Fiona Mason from Newton Mearns Baptist Church kindly shares her volunteering experience.

Glasgow City Mission provide a winter night shelter service aiming to offer Glasgow's homeless people a warm, safe place to sleep.  Whilst there, trained staff work with them to try to tackle the root causes of homelessness and help the person find suitable temporary accommodation as an alternative to rough sleeping. They are also referred to Glasgow City Mission's other services, and those of partner organisation, including places to get a hot meal, legal advocacy work and support with seeking employment, or medical care – podiatry is a big issue!

sleeping bags and mattresses at glasgow winter night shelter

Rangers Charity Foundation had recently pledged £25,000 to allow the night shelter to stay open for an extra month, (sadly) due to demand, however, volunteers were still required to work with the trained staff, to help make this happen.  Newton Mearns Baptist Church, in the Southside of Glasgow, committed to helping provide support in this way.  So at 21:30 on Sunday 31st January I went to the night shelter in the East end of Glasgow, to be "sleepless to serve".

The night shelter hosted 31 guests that night, 29 males and 2 females.  The shelter can host more, and unfortunately on Friday night people were turned away due to lack of space.  Between 2014-15 a total of 407 individuals used the shelter, between them accessing the service some 1,501 times.

My service on the evening was to allocate a mattress as they arrived and also to give them access to clean/dry underwear/socks and t-shirts.  The desperate appreciation of such simple, take for granted items was notable.  Guests upon arrival are security checked, and they aren't permitted access to their belongings or dependencies for the evening.  It's very sad to see someone's entire life contents being put into one clear bag that most of us, would struggle to fit our weekly shopping in!  

Guests quickly show that their bed is taken by laying out the provided sleeping bag, and then it's a scrabble to get a space on a radiator to dry their clothing and to quickly get access to the dry items provided, out of choice, they lastly then go to the cafe area, where fruit/cake/toast and a warm drink are provided.  

Most individuals remove their wet shoes and socks upon arrival and give their damp feet some relief for the evening.  They keep the pair of socks provided for putting on in the morning, often back into wet shoes, depending how soaked they have got – and yes it does rain in Glasgow (lots and often!!)

Part of my service was to provide a listening ear/a friendly face, as often these individuals have had a full day of being ignored or being in confrontational situations, so they appreciate the neutral-ness of the volunteers ability to listen without judgement.  

Because they aren't allowed access to their dependencies whilst at the night shelter, they spend much of their time in an adjoining lane smoking, but have to be supervised whilst doing so, to ensure they aren't using anything prohibited or being passed anything in!  They also aren't allowed to have their own lighter, so cigarettes must be lit for them.  As a non-smoker I would absolutely choose to avoid normally being around smoke, but I saw this as a "perfect" opportunity to spend time chatting with the guests, and it was so interesting to hear their stories, either about their day, or how they have become homeless and it was an invaluable way to serve the.

At midnight the cafe is closed and lights go out, and the "sleepless to serve" really comes into it's own then!  I had to sit and watch over them as they slept, it's then that you really get to process all you have seen and heard, and also just watching them makes you see the individual lying there.  My own daughters relish if I sit and wait for them to fall asleep (bad mummy points!!) but the appreciation of the guests lying there knowing they are safe is priceless.  My service was then over, and a team remained on to provide breakfast to them in the morning and to try to help them access some of the other help mentioned above.

I am delighted that my workplace Murgitroyd will be able to go on and serve the project in a tangible way by donating new underwear for those who attend the night shelter.

Fiona is pictured above presenting Graham Steven of Glasgow City Mission with donations of new underwear for those who use the night shelter. 

The Glasgow Winter Night Shelter operates seven nights a week until March 31st providing emergency accommodation for those with nowhere else to sleep. As well as a safe, warm place to sleep, guests are connected to healthcare, legal services and statutory accommodation provision, plus the daytime services of Glasgow City Mission and those of our partners. Find out more.

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