Mitzvah Day: Marylebone day centre provides welcome sanctuary for homeless

With just one month until the Ham&High and Mitzvah Day’s challenge to Give Away your Lunch, this week we speak to Mark Palframan of the West London Day Centre to learn more about his job and the realities of running a busy drop-in service for street homeless people.

About 100 people a day visit the West London Day Centre based in Marylebone. Among the visitors will be as many as 10 new faces, who must be individually assessed to determine how best the centre and its staff can help them.

As well as serving hot breakfasts, handing out clothing and providing hot showers, staff will also try to help with other needs.

Mark Palframan, who is responsible for fundraising for the centre in Seymour Place, says: “This may include medical attention. We have an NHS team on site with a nurse every day and weekly sessions from a podiatrist [foot specialist], counsellor, optician and doctor.

“We also offer support with finding employment, assistance with sorting out benefit claims, referrals into accommodation or assistance to return home.”

The centre helps 20 to 30 people off the streets and into accommodation every month.

But, Mark explains, there is no statutory responsibility to provide advice or accommodation for most of these people, so without the centre’s assistance many of them would be on the streets.

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The people who visit are extremely diverse. Many have come to London to look for work or have mental health issues or substance abuse problems.

But the centre is also increasingly seeing a lot of vulnerable people whose benefit payments have been stopped or suspended, leaving them homeless.

Despite working with homeless people for more than 25 years, Mark’s passion for his vocation has not waned.

“I still find the range of complicated and often tragic circumstances both fascinating and motivating,” he explained. “It is a privilege to be able to help people in crisis – and very satisfying to see them rebuild their lives.”

The centre is supported by four full-time volunteers and day volunteers who staff the reception, serve in the canteen and interpret for people with limited English.

Clothing donations together with Mitzvah Day’s Give Away Your Lunch food donations will be much appreciated.

“As statutory funding is cut we are increasingly looking to the local community and businesses to make up the financial shortfall to enable us to keep running our services. We simply cannot allow a situation like the late 1980s to develop here again – no more cardboard cities please!”

* The Ham&High’s Give Away Your Lunch challenge is calling on families, schools, community groups, religious groups, friends or work colleagues to visit homeless shelter and give away a lunch over Mitzvah Day weekend from Friday, November 15 to Sunday, November 17. Visit or email