Safe Sleep began with a conversation that led to another and another and then three questions … Shall we? Can we? Could Refresh, the churches of Weymouth and Portland come together on this new initiative? The answers were, of course, YES, YES and YES! September 2018 saw a partnership begin between three charities in Weymouth: Refresh joined with The Lantern Trust and Julian House to run a night shelter for 10 weeks from 21st January to 30th March 2019. The Lantern Trust and Julian House provided the professional back-up, outreach workers, safeguarding and training and each charity employed an overnight supervisor. Refresh provided the venues; two Anglican churches, the Baptist church and the Catholic Church Hall. Refresh also gathered an army of volunteers, mostly from across the churches in Weymouth and Portland, but also from the wider community who in turn gathered food donations from churches, golf clubs, neighbours.
Each night there was a maximum of 16 guests, male and female, young and old, and even a dog, and by the end of the 10 weeks a total of 829 guest beds had been slept in. Hot drinks and homecooked dinner and cakes were served and porridge for breakfast. Camp beds were a welcome respite from the streets and in one venue there was a hot shower! So many conversations were had, guests’ stories listened to, banter, laughter, anger, arguments, and on one evening, in the middle of the hubbub, a vicar knelt with a guest and prayed. We noticed that to start with our guests were categorised as clients, but gradually we became to know them by name. Importantly we began to hear their personal stories and sensed how God might be interwoven in them.
On their first night at Safe Sleep each guest had to sign a code of conduct and agree to engage with The Lantern or Julian House within the following three days to begin to address their other needs. Those with unmet physical (16) and mental health (25) needs were then offered specialist interventions from partner agencies such as the Homeless Health Service, REACH drug and alcohol service and dentists. In addition, 8 had their unmet welfare benefit needs met and more than half were found accommodation. But most importantly no one died on the streets of Weymouth last winter.
Together we are again planning and fundraising for Safe Sleep – this year the start date is the beginning of December and we’re hoping to run for 4 months!