Residents rally round Ilkeston church to open winter homeless shelter

St John the Evangelist Church in Ilkeston is to offer overnight shelter to the town's homeless people this winter after residents rallied around the idea on Facebook.
St John the Evangelist Church in Ilkeston is to offer overnight shelter to the town's homeless people this winter after residents rallied around the idea on Facebook.

An Ilkeston church is hoping to open its doors as an overnight shelter for the town’s homeless people this winter after local residents rallied around the idea online.

Efforts are being led by Kirk Hallam priest The Reverend Christine French, Smalley paramedic Tracy Cunningham, and community activist Des Ball, who first floated the idea on Facebook last week.

Reverend Christine French, Des Ball, and Tracy Cunningham are leading efforts to set up the Ilkeston Winter Shelter to support the town's homeless population.

Reverend Christine French, Des Ball, and Tracy Cunningham are leading efforts to set up the Ilkeston Winter Shelter to support the town's homeless population.

Tracy, 51, said: “Des wrote a post about how bad the local homelessness situation has got and what could be done about it. He has run a few local campaigns, and has quite a big following now. His comments sparked a reaction online, some negative but mostly positive.

“It’s something I’ve thought about too, having seen a lot of rough sleepers in the town centre, and coming across those who will call for an ambulance just to go to hospital for warmth and food. It’s not just Ilkeston either, Derby and Nottingham are experiencing it too. The problem is massive.”

She added: “Christine responded to Des offering to help, but said she didn’t know all the right people. She had someone sleeping in the church doorway for so long that someone went and bought him a tent.

“Another local church ran a shelter up until about three years ago when it closed due to funding issues.”

Two days after the conversation began online, Des, Tracy and Christine met up and quickly agreed on the use of the church hall at St John the Evangelist, on Nottingham Road, where Christine is an associate priest.

While planning for the project is still in its earliest stages, some details have already been agreed.

Tracy said: “We haven’t got a definite idea of how many people are homeless in Ilkeston at the moment, but we will start with 20 beds and see how it develops from there.

“There may be some limits on how long a shelter can be open every year, but we’ll definitely run for December and January, which are normally the worst months. We would like to extend it from October to March if we can.

“People will get a hot meal when they come in, a bed for the night, and something for breakfast before they leave.”

As homelessness often goes hand in hand with other challenging personal and social circumstances, it is hoped that other public agencies and community organisations will get on board with the project too.

Tracy said: “We want to bring in mental health counsellors, addiction specialists, and benefits and housing advisors. It’s important to bring these services to people where they are, and make them easier to access.

“A lot of these services have been cut, and that is making things more difficult, but in the ambulance service we know there are ways to wrap care around people by working with other organisations.

“We’re making contact with those now, and trying to get some advice of our own. Obviously, we’ve never done anything like this before so we want to be aware of what to expect and any pitfalls which might come up.”

The trio will host a public meeting at the church hall on Friday, September 21, starting at 2pm, and have invited MP Maggie Throup, borough council representatives, charities, and partner agencies to attend.

Christine is applying for funding grants, and has already launched an online fundraising page for the project at https://goo.gl/LBBU6B.

Tracy said: “Further down the line, there will be more opportunities to get involved, whether that’s donating money, supplies or raffle prizes, or ways to volunteer. We’ve had so many people offering help already, it’s unbelievable and uplifting. It’s like the old community spirit coming back.”

For all the latest updates, follow the project at facebook.com/ilkestonwintershelter.