Forest Churches Emergency Night Shelter – FCENS is a collaboration of seven local partner churches that came together in January 2009 to meet the need of those sleeping rough in Waltham Forest during the winter months. Each one has donated their premises and provided volunteers, food and bedding to sleep our guests for one night per week for five months over the winter. We provide shelter facilities during these months, from 1 November through to 31 March, to meet their immediate needs including an evening meal, bed, breakfast, showers and a warm welcome. We also provide a caseworker to help with longer term needs such as housing. FCENS is a rolling shelter sleeping 30 individuals at a different church venue each night of the week. Before the shelter period begins, we communicate with the day centres and local hostels, when the shelters will open. We also promote the shelter opening widely across the borough to anyone who may want to volunteer their time to help run the shelters. FCENS is non-judgemental in its operation and welcomes guests and volunteers of all persuasions without discrimination or favour.
In September 2009 the only hostel in the borough which provided a service for rough sleepers closed for a yearlong refurbishment programme. As a result this left a gap in the provision of services for these individuals. FCENS mobilised to fill that gap. We opened for just 3 months. That winter, the coldest on record, saw 130 people using the shelter.
The number of beneficiaries continues to increase. Approximately 60% of our guests are from Eastern Europe however an increasing percentage (more than 25%) are of British or Irish origin. The remainder are from various parts of the world. Many have mental health issues and are at a disadvantage because of this.
Our beneficiaries and volunteers have been transformed through experiences gained from interaction with each other; many users have felt that they have regained some self-respect and confidence through being in the shelters and some have been helped to find accommodation and a life away from the street.
Our aim is to transform the lives of our beneficiaries in some small way by giving a helping hand at a difficult time of year and, where possible, to help them to move away from a life on the streets towards a more independent and sustainable lifestyle. Providing food and shelter over the winter period allows us to work with a number of these individuals to help them achieve just that if they so want it. Many just need a place to sleep and we can provide a safe environment for them to do so. For others, they receive help to find accommodation; to obtain personal identification documents which will then allow them to claim benefits, find accommodation and paid work; to access benefits if they are eligible or to link up with local health services. A very small number have decided to return to their original homes in the UK or abroad and we have been able to help them to do this.