Offering shelter and hope in King’s Lynn

Published on: 1 September 2019

Project Co-ordinator Lucy McKitterick looks back over the first year of the King's Lynn Winter Nightshelter.

In the autumn of 2018 we began recruiting for our first all-winter season, and by the end of March this year 130 volunteers had welcomed 97 homeless guests in a total of 2,897 beds. Each night for five months of the winter we opened our doors to whoever needed us; cooked, listened and cared for them; and so, opened ourselves to the extraordinary privilege of welcoming Jesus Christ.

The number of night shelter schemes run by groups of local churches has been growing rapidly in recent years. In Norfolk there are similar schemes operating in Great Yarmouth and in Norwich, and nationally such shelters have become an essential lifeline when other provision is full, unavailable, been tried before, or just not there.

Many shelters occupy a rota of church buildings; in Lynn we are blessed with a single location (an old music hall!) adapted for use which has been an important part of establishing somewhere people can find “home”.

We accept guests both on referral from other agencies and those who “refer” themselves: for some there will be ways to link them with other support but with others we see the hard reality of what saving lives in cold weather can look like. The young man in a wheelchair hearing voices between detentions in psychiatric care, the woman with limbs ulcerated from years of needle use giving sexual favours in exchange for crack cocaine, the husband shaking in the gutter each evening with alcohol seizures, were not easy guests: yet they came because in Norfolk last winter there was nowhere else for them to go.

The plight of the unwanted in our nation is the responsibility of all of us: but for Christians these “referrals” are an invitation to obey the Saviour who asks us to love and serve his poor and through this service to know him better than we did before.

The cross on the wall in our reception in Lynn isn’t where our guests will see it, cold and tired from the streets – they don’t need to know if we’re a church night shelter, the way we treat them will tell them that – but where we can see it, when we’re listening to them.

And Jesus on the cross is here with us in his beauty and dignity especially in the most “complex needs” individuals who, because of addiction or abuse or violence or depression or just from exhaustion, have the most visible wounds.

Norfolk’s night shelters are part of a new regional forum of similar projects across East Anglia: like all of them we’ll be opening again in Lynn this winter and we need each other’s expertise and prayers. There are huge challenges – from safeguarding to risk assessment to raising funds – but in coming forward to accept this vital work in our communities we are a visible witness to the love of Jesus who suffers for and with us and so offers a life-changing hope.

Applications for being a Night Shelter volunteer, October 2018:

“I think this is the perfect opportunity to help my community.”

“You never know when life may hand you a rough deal.”

“I hate seeing people on the streets”

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