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Norfolk homeless shelter prepares to open its new doors this winter

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“When we all come together we can achieve so much” (a volunteer, March 2020)

In June this year the King’s Lynn Churches Together Night Shelter moved from the converted port offices at 5 St Ann’s Fort, to a new home in the former vicarage of St John’s Church in the Walks: a wonderful six-bedroom house built in 1871 with two staircases, a large garden, open fireplaces and a magnificent Victorian bathroom with servants’ bell and a huge claw-foot tub. We are very grateful to the diocese for agreeing to the lease!

When COVID-19 arrived in Norfolk and the nation went into lockdown in March this year we were almost at the end of our winter season, and when the Government announced the closure of dormitory-style night shelters in favour of emergency temporary accommodation in hotels and B&Bs our local council were able to find rooms for almost all of our guests. For many of them the COVID crisis became in this way a blessing, as people were fast-tracked to flats and tenancies who had been without a home of their own for months or years.

This has of course been wonderful to see and we give thanks for the work of the Borough Council and others during these hard months. But with fears of the “second wave” this autumn, and the possibility of a second lockdown and all that entails, the Night Shelter is looking again at what happens for the people left behind: those evicted from the hotel rooms, or not offered tenancies when the emergency provision closed in June; those whose mental health and other complications has made finding and holding down a tenancy so far impossible; those becoming homeless in the months ahead as job losses increase and the effects of lockdown on relationships and households take their toll. We are asked, most days, when we are opening again.

Our new home at St John’s House has been carefully prepared for use as a COVID-secure shelter: not just with fire doors, CCTV and new wiring but with plans in place to keep our guests and volunteers safe while being still a welcoming and comfortable home. The bathtub has been replaced by three modern showers and as for the servants’ bell… well, we hope our guests will always have the help they need from us.

There is a lot of need, and it may be a hard winter: the man in a wheelchair sleeping in a tent in the park, the woman finding a bed each night by offering sex in exchange for shelter and crack cocaine, are just two people whose names are currently in our prayers.

“The Lord will destroy the shroud which is cast over all peoples”, says the prophet Isaiah, “It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

As the Night Shelter opens on Thursday 29 October, and the COVID crisis continues to unfold, the remembrance of the blessings we have received in the past – the kindness of volunteers, the warmth of a community which gave us food for 2,953 hot dinners last winter, the gifts of money and time and prayers – gives great hope for the future, that the “second wave” will be not just of this terrible virus but also a second wave of generosity and of grace.

So please pray for us, for all who serve and stay here, that the Night Shelter this winter will be both a sanctuary and a way into the future for our guests.