Merton Winter Night Shelter provides people who sleep rough in the Merton area with healthy and homemade food, a warm and dry place to sleep and a friendly atmosphere where they can relax and let their guard down for a night.
The project, which started in 2011, is coordinated by YMCA St Paul’s Group and is run in partnership with nearly 20 faith groups – including around 340 volunteers – in the Borough of Merton.
Today, Merton Winter Night Shelter has 12 places available for local rough sleepers during the cold winter months; running from early December to early March.
Merton Night Shelter Co-ordinator Nicki Zisman is in charge of assessing who will be offered a place in the scheme and for co-ordinating and overseeing the faith groups who take turn running the Shelter venues.
Like jumping from hell to heaven
Diego was one of the guests staying at the Night Shelter last winter. He said that “if it wasn’t for the Night Shelter, I would be staying on the street, and I would probably sleep in a park, on a bench”.
Diego said he had spent seven months sleeping on the streets, where he would move between trains and public toilets to get a roof over his head, and where he would often experience being spat on.
Securing a place at the Shelter, Diego said, was like “jumping from hell to heaven”. He added that “the volunteers at the Night Shelter made my life make sense again. He says when you are sleeping rough, people look at you like ‘you are nothing”.
Became a hostel resident
The Winter Night Shelter does much more than simply providing the guests with a place to sleep for the night. Once a guest has been granted a place with the Shelter their space is theirs for as long as they keep using it.
Throughout the winter, co-ordinator Nicki works with each and every one of them in order to look for more permanent accommodation, including in the YMCA LSW hostels in Wimbledon and Surbiton.
When a guest moves on to hostel accommodation or to another location, their spot will be offered to the next applicant on the list.
However, with benefit reductions and increasing number of rough sleepers in London, Nicki and the Merton Winter Night Shelter sees a growing demand and the waiting list for a place getting longer.
Comfortable and warm venues
At all the Winter Night Shelter venues, the dinner is a vital part of the night. Volunteers and guests all sit down together to share the evening meal, which is prepared by the volunteers.
Martin, another guest who used the Night Shelter last year, said that before he got a place at the Shelter, he used to sleep rough at the Broadway, the high street in Wimbledon. He found out about the scheme by word of mouth from other homeless people.
Martin said the venues are “very comfortable, definitely warmer than in the street”, and that “the food is good and healthy”.
He added that: “when you sleep on the street, you don’t sleep right, because you never know what is around the corner”.
Want to help? Join the Sleep Easy fundraising event
On 6th March 2015, we are holding our annual fundraising event Sleep Easy in Wimbledon and Kingston. The proceeds from the event goes to YMCA LSW’s work with homeless people, including the Merton Winter Night Shelter.
By sleeping rough for one night, you will also help us raise awareness about the growing number of homeless people in London.
If you want to more about how you can get involved with Sleep Easy, please email Sarah Ward or call 020 8339 7308.
Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and here on the website for news and updates about the Sleep Easy fundraising event 2015.