Churches throw open their doors to the homeless

CHURCHES in Camden will be filling up over the next few months with people desperate to escape the cold weather

Ben McPartland

CHURCHES in Camden will be filling up over the next few months with people desperate to escape the cold weather.

But this will not just be the usual congregation turning up for an hour or two every Sunday.

Seven of the borough's churches have joined forces to create the Camden and City Churches Cold Weather Shelters (C4WS) to offer a bed and much more to homeless people who have been making do with shop doorways or bus shelters.

The shelters are open from January to the end of March with each taking it in turn to welcome people in one night a week.

CW4S advocacy worker Jhoana Serna, 26, said: "When they come in they normally tell me a little bit about themselves and about what they need.

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"My main aim is get them into accommodation but people come with all different kinds of issues.

"It is not just about having a housing problem. There's always a reason people are homeless.

"Some of the reasons they end up on the streets are crazy. One guy who came in recently became depressed about four weeks ago. It got worse and he tried to commit suicide.

"His landlord kicked him out and all of a sudden he was on the streets. And now he can't work to get enough rent and that is how the cycle begins.

"It really could happen to anyone. For some people it's a repeat of problems but for others it could just be sudden change and they find themselves homeless."

The Beacon on Fleet Road, Our Lady Help of Christians RC Church in Kentish Town, Trinity United Reform Church in Camden Town and the Upper Room, both in Camden Town, King's Cross Methodist Church, St Mary Magdalene in Munster Square and the City Temple in Holborn are the seven shelters involved in the scheme.

Ms Serna's work involves more than finding people a bed for the night.

She said: "My main job is getting people access to the services they need and standing up beside them when they need help the most.

"The problem is a lot of our guests are not aware of the services available to them.

"I find out what they need and then match them up to a service, even if it's just a doctor. We let them know their rights."

Chairman of C4WS Bill Risebero, a retired university lecturer, believes solving the problem of homelessness could be simple if there was more of a will.

"They just need to build more houses, he said. "There should be more low cost housing in the public sector and in the private renting sector."