Our Charity of the Year

Cambridge Churches Homeless Project

Hot on the heels of It Takes A City, Cambridge’s first summit on homelessness, the Cambridge Churches Homeless Project once again opened its emergency winter shelter for rough sleepers on 3rd December.

Now in our 7th season, eleven churches and one synagogue offered a home for homeless people from Advent to Easter with St Bene’t’s and Trumpington congregations providing teams to staff an evening.  As in previous years, each venue hosts on one night of the week to offer a warm friendly welcome, a delicious cooked meal and a bed for the night.  CCHP uniquely provides hospitality and a listening ear to those who would otherwise be sleeping rough in the city.

Facilitating you to help​

People often say they don’t know what to do when they see a homeless person in the street.  Should they give money or is this colluding and counter-productive? They would like to be helpful, but they don’t know where to begin: the Cambridge Churches Homeless Project offers a way anyone with a little time and kindness can be part of that practical help.

CCHP recruits new volunteers during the autumn term for the winter ahead.  Well over 60 new volunteers appeared at each of the three recruitment evenings.  This is a tremendous reflection of the generosity that the people of Cambridge have towards our homeless brothers and sisters.  Our volunteers come from all over the city, ‘town and ‘gown’, students, GPs, teachers, consultants, retired people, parents, grandparents; people of all faiths and none are represented.  This wonderful diversity of people contributes to making the project a joy to be involved with.

It is also a joy to bring not only Christians of different traditions together for this work, but also to be sharing the project with our Jewish friends at Beth Shalom Synagogue: a special witness to the value of all God’s people united in providing practical, mutual support.  In addition to Beth Shalom, our rota of host churches that take it in turn to host during the four months includes St John’s, Hills Road;  Wesley Methodist Church (with Trumpington Parish Church providing volunteers); Emmanuel United Reformed Church; Christ Church; Little St Mary’s; Castle Street Methodist Church; Great St Mary’s, Our Lady and the English Martyrs; St Philip’s (with St Bene’t’s providing the team); St Giles and St Paul’s.

Processes became more bureacratic​

General Data Protection Regulations and Food Hygiene inspections have created more bureaucratic processes for us recently.  The policy and IT implications of these have been huge for an organisation like CCHP that has grown organically, adapting year by year as it learns by experience.  As ever, huge thanks go to all our volunteers without which the project simply cannot exist.  Our wonderful cooks should be singled out for special thanks for incorporating many new changes which resulted in 4 and 5 star food hygiene ratings when several churches were randomly inspected Cambridge City Council Food hygiene inspectors this winter.

Trustee Stephen Barwise worked tirelessly to support cooks throughout the season to ensure the good practice already being done by our cooks and caterers could be evidenced within our paperwork for an inspector to see. Over 3,000 hot cooked meals are made each winter, and despite all the new rules and regulations, once again our guests and volunteers enjoyed food of the highest quality night after night throughout the winter.

For the first time Cambridge University colleges and local restaurants provided meals for our guests at Great St Mary’s and St Giles. A huge thanks to Corpus Christi, Magdalene and Gonville & Caius colleges all of whom produced incredible food along with The Punter and The Chop House restaurants.  Our sincere thanks to each for their wonderful cooking and generosity.

Our help in numbers

Educated guess at the percentage of NRPFs (those with no recourse to public funds so not eligible for Jimmy’s etc) = 40%

  • 7 women accommodated
  • 35 men accommodated
  • 14.3 average people accommodated each night
  • 376 total number of volunteers that helped during 2018/19
  • 3,000 hot meals cooked (estimated) for guests and volunteers
  • 33% able to access accommodation while supported by CCHP
  • 116 night longest stay during the 4 month period
  • 84 nights the average number of nights someone typically stayed with the project

A winter of transition

Another first for CCHP this year was the decision to accommodate women within the project. In previous years we have accommodated women in suitable B&Bs and have then looked to partner agencies to help thereafter.  However, the decision was taken to include women within the cohort in response to the increasing numbers of women presenting as homeless whilst we were running.

In many ways it has been a winter of transition for CCHP as we were without Lucy McKitterick, one of our co-founders.  Lucy was hugely missed; her absence revealing just how much was done (typically unseen) quietly, behind the scenes.  Instead, Lucy was busy putting her considerable skills, experience and passion to good effect in Kings Lynn as she led the winter shelter whilst we were running in Cambridge.  It is interesting to note the growing numbers of similar faith-based pop up winter shelters across the country.  While this is a sad reflection of the rising numbers of homeless people, it is heartening to see faith communities mobilising to respond to this.

A decision was taken in December to ask Leslie Dewar to help with transporting the kit (by van) from venue to venue.  The ‘kit’ has grown year on year; feedback from several churches has been overwhelmingly supportive of this move with the kit becoming too big for even the largest of cars.  Leslie’s role and consistently amiable nature made a significant contribution, especially on early morning starts.

Working with other partners​

One of the characteristics of the Cambridge shelter is that it seeks to complement work done by the agencies from the homeless sector.  For example, prior to the shelter opening, CCHP meets with a multi-agency team that includes the Cambridge Street & Mental Health Outreach Team (CGL), Jimmy’s, Wintercomfort for the Homeless and the Dual Diagnosis Street Team to consider the list of those people who are known to be rough sleeping.  This enabled CCHP to be advised on the initial cohort of 17 guests for the shelter, ensuring those who are verified as rough sleepers are offered a place.  Liaison with our partners including Cambridge City Council, takes place both when the shelter is running and beyond to ensure support is ‘joined up’ and sustainable.  Jemma Strachan is CCHP’s sole employee.  As well as overseeing the logistical side of the shelter, Jemma provides support to our guests and works closely with the agencies to ensure this ‘joined up’ approach takes place.  The team at Wintercomfort are a joy to work with and they have helped Jemma on an almost daily basis to help us provide co-ordinated support.

The Dual Diagnosis Street Team have been a presence at our venues twice a week throughout the winter.  Several guests with a complex and enduring mental health diagnoses and an addiction have benefited from this team. The recent announcement to cut the funding for DDST is a huge blow to the homeless people and all who work with them.  CCHP is extremely grateful to all the organisations mentioned because they each play a significant role in ensuring the winter shelter is managed safely and that the needs of our guests remain a priority.  We are very blessed to have such dedicated services working within our city.

This year Cambridge City Council have provided a house through their Town Hall Lettings Scheme to 4 of our guests who would otherwise have returned to rough sleeping.  Jemma is providing support to the four house guests, three of whom are currently working.  In keeping with the spirit of CCHP hospitality, regular meals with the guests in the house take place every few weeks with CCHP trustees and volunteers.  Special thanks to Andy King, Housing Advice Partnerships Manager with Cambridge City Council for his ongoing support and for creating this opportunity (accommodation with support) for four of our guests. At the time of writing all in the house are doing well.

Thank you to all who contribute to the work of CCHP; sadly it is not possible to include everyone within a short report.  As in previous years, we finish each winter with mixed feelings.  With thankfulness to God for another safe winter, for the gifts of time and money that so many give to CCHP to enable the project to run and a list of things we know need improving for next winter.  Thanks finally to our guests, many of whom have contributed hugely to the smooth running of the project this year where we have seen 5 former guests volunteering with CCHP, which tells its own story.

Jon Canessa runs a midweek group (12 noon on Wednesdays at Wesley Church) exploring spirituality, addiction and mental well being.  Several guests have benefited from this group since the shelter finished on 31st March

Rev’d Jon Canessa
Chair of the Cambridge Churches Homeless Project
Bishop’s Officer for Homelessness

May 2019