Shelter demonstrates the true meaning of Christmas

The Christmas Shelter team ,from left Donna Wren, Simone Knowles, Sandra O'Neill and Lisa Letch.
The Christmas Shelter team ,from left Donna Wren, Simone Knowles, Sandra O'Neill and Lisa Letch.

That time of year is upon us again, with the countdown to Christmas well and truly begun.

Most of us look forward to the prospect of family get-togethers, present opening and eating the traditional turkey dinners on Christmas day.

However, for some it is a very different experience.

Imagine for one moment, what it would be like to not have the security and warmth of a roof over your head... imagine feeling chilled to the bone and soaked to the skin....you’re hungry, yet you have no food to quench that hunger... your feet are sore because you’ve been walking day and night, too frightened to lay down and sleep... you wander aimlessly through the streets, begging for loose change, yet all you receive is a dirty look or blank stare because you’re filthy and unkempt.

You turn to alcohol or other substances to blot out the pain and help you sleep for a while but before you know it, you’re on a downward spiral. Imagine that was you.

Homelessness can happen to anyone and according to the organisation Shelter.

“Someone loses their home every two minutes, with a 13 per cent rise against this time last year,” a spokesman said.

With the current economic climate there has been a higher need for people to access Lancaster and District Homeless Action’s centre and its services.

The most vulnerable in society are now becoming even more vulnerable.

Most susceptible to this ever-increasing problem are care leavers, ex-forces, those with mental health issues, substance abusers and, quite often, single people – in particular men.

In most cases they are not deemed a priority with local authorities, or likely to be ‘roofed’ by a friend.

That is why provision, such as that offered by Lancaster and District Homeless Action (LDHAS), is vital to the roofless and those in housing poverty in the Lancaster area.

Edward Street is British Legion trained and can signpost people from the sevices to the help they require.

The scheme was founded in 1987 by a group of local churches, who were all working alongside people suffering housing poverty in the area.

In 1997, the LDHAS portacabin in Edward Street was donated by the power station.

Today, it has a dedicated team of staff and volunteers who work tirelessly to ensure their clients feel valued and included.

Donations by the public, churches and schools keep the centre running.

Without this generosity the centre would certainly close.

Despite the size of the space, valuable and essential work takes place, with caseworkers offering advice on a variety of subjects, such as housing, benefits, debt, money management and drug and alcohol rehabilitation.

Caseworkers also take on an advocacy role and are part of a multi-agency effort to reintegrate service users back into their community and society in general.

In addition, they have a TLC Worker who liaises with local private landlords to provide accommodation and also Floating Support Workers who offer assistance and support to those who are placed in accommodation.

The portacabin was never intended to be long term and certainly not here more than 20 years down the line.

It was hoped a more permanent building would have become available.

As the service has evolved more space is required and a brick building would be fit for purpose.

The whole area around Edward Street is due be redeveloped and the centre sits in the middle of the development plans, so the search for new premises has become more urgent.

If anyone has any suggestions please contact the manager of LDHAS, Gary Walsh.

As well as providing a warm, cheery atmosphere for the clients, we also offer access to computers, showers and toilets, a laundry service and fresh clothing (donated by local supporters).

The project is open seven days a week, 52 weeks of the year, from 10am to 1.30pm, Monday to Friday, offering tea, coffee, breakfast, lunch and activities. On Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays, it opens from noon to 1.30pm, offering tea, coffee and lunch.

As with every Christmas, the LDHAS is offering festivities, food and accommodation to those who are roofless and as usual, the regular centre staff will be taking a well deserved break, being replaced by the Christmas Shelter team, who will take over the running of the centre, with the help of volunteers, over the Christmas week.

The centre will open at 4pm on Christmas Eve, until breakfast on December 29.

During these five days and nights, clients can look forward to a full Christmas Dinner cooked by volunteers, as well as three meals a day and a constant supply of treats, tea and coffee for the duration of the shelter.

Guests will be able to watch Christmas TV, participate in activities and have a warm place to sleep, as well as being able to access the usual facilities.

This will be LDHAS’s 26th Christmas shelter.

As always, all food donations are regularly received throughout the year, from local churches, businesses and individuals within the neighbourhood and we very much appreciate their support.

Financial support for the project has changed over time, with a Board of Trustees and the centre’s management team working continuously to secure future funding from various bodies.

The Christmas team have been working hard to organise and facilitate fund raising activities but this year we would like to believe that we could exceed our expectations of local funding contributions.

The team is asking for further donations; no matter how small, it would be welcomed and greatly appreciated.

They take donations of warm clothes (male and female), shoes, underwear, hats, scarves and gloves, tinned meat, coffee, sugar, chocolate and sweets, small tents, sleeping bags and, of course, money.

“We know that times are hard for most people but please, still spare a thought for those less fortunate than yourselves this Christmas,” said Christmas Shelter coordinator Donna Wren.

“A big heartfelt thank you goes out to all our volunteers.

“Without them we would struggle to provide the service we do.

“We appreciate all their efforts and support. Christmas is the hardest time to be homeless.

“Nobody should be homeless and alone, particularly at Christmas.”

If you can help in any way, please contact Donna on 01524 842008.