Wakefield shelter for homeless people is expecting things to get worse during cost of living crisis – but there is hope

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
'When people are going through their darkest times we are there to help.'

The night shelter and drop-in service at Wakefield Baptist Church is preparing for its busiest period of the year at a time when more and more people need help.

Twice a week the church – at Belle Isle Avenue off Barnsley Road – opens its doors to feed those in need and, when the temperature hits freezing, gives people with nowhere to go a place to sleep.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It was time to open for the first night since last winter on Wednesday, December 7 as the bitter cold set in.

Volunteers at Wakefield Baptist Church drop-in session. Left, Florence BradleyVolunteers at Wakefield Baptist Church drop-in session. Left, Florence Bradley
Volunteers at Wakefield Baptist Church drop-in session. Left, Florence Bradley

The drop-in – on Mondays and Thursdays – provides a meal and support for visitors.

Some may have serious drug or alcohol problems, some have mental health struggles, some have financial woes to contend with, and others are simply lonely.

But at the church on a cold Thursday afternoon there’s a warm welcome for anyone signing-in for help. The kitchen at the back of the hall is buzzing with the buttering of bread and the guests chat around pop-up tables.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The room looks like any number you might have seen at a church or village hall. It could host a band, wedding reception, Christmas market, school play or local group.

John Whiteley at Wakefield Baptist Church drop-in sessionJohn Whiteley at Wakefield Baptist Church drop-in session
John Whiteley at Wakefield Baptist Church drop-in session

But it’s that room that will double as a shelter for homeless people after the kitchen is packed up, and the mats and sleeping bags are laid out.

Chef Florence Bradley says the numbers of people vary from day to day and believes she has a duty to look after them.

The retired social worker is familiar with many of the people who have to use the shelter, where she also volunteers.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

She said: “Some people have had difficult experiences and their lives are in turmoil. You see people coming in at 8pm who might have been on the streets for several days, they’re cold, they’re miserable and they’re generally very unhappy.”

Volunteers at Wakefield Baptist Church drop-in session. Front centre, Becky FlowersVolunteers at Wakefield Baptist Church drop-in session. Front centre, Becky Flowers
Volunteers at Wakefield Baptist Church drop-in session. Front centre, Becky Flowers

She says a lot of people who use the night shelter find it hard to adjust even when they are given accommodation.

"For whatever personal reasons can they find it very difficult,” she said.

“Sometimes being on the streets with your mates might feel more safe than being a place where there is no one else with you."

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Back at the Thursday drop-in, the line at the kitchen serving hatch gets deeper.

Gareth HattGareth Hatt
Gareth Hatt

Retired John Whiteley comes for lunch at the sessions. He lives by himself and doesn’t see his family.

It’s the company as much as anything that brings him to the church’s drop-in sessions.

He said: “I’m alone. I’m a lonely man, really.”

Gareth Hatt, originally from Wales, has been using the drop-in session for four or five weeks after it was recommended by a friend.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

He’s out of work and collects food parcels from the church as well.

He said he’s seen more people find it hard to make ends meet.

He said: “I’m struggling for money at the moment so that’s why I come here – for some food.”

Poet and charity fundraiser Dawn Bland has used the drop-in sessions for several years.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

She has helped to raise money for various causes and her fourth collection of poetry is now on sale.

The proceeds will be donated to charity SoActive, which helps people with learning difficulties.

She said: “I’ve seen more people here and more new people. People are struggling. A lot come here because they’re lonely and have no family.

“A lot will come here to eat on Christmas Day because they can’t afford to cook a meal and have no family to go to.”

She said the government should act to help people.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“The issue needs addressing now and if they don’t then families will have to choose between putting on the heating to keep warm or having a meal,” she said.

“And people will get in rent arrears that will cause more homelessness. It’s a domino effect. We need to nip it in the bud before it escalates.”

Night shelter co-ordinator Becky Flowers knows the economic situation in the country is likely to mean more demand for their services.

She said: “I think the cost of living and energy crisis could increase our numbers this year.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"We have seen an increase in requests for food parcels at our drop-in sessions and, with how things are going, there is a chance we will see an increase at the night shelter as well.

“We used to give out a handful of food parcels but now, on our busiest days, we give out 30-plus in a two or three hour session and I can only see that becoming more.”

She said the demographic of people coming to use the shelter had shifted from being mostly white, single men to more women and couples, and that ages ranged from the very young to elderly.

It’s the first year that the shelter is being held in the church again since the Covid pandemic and social distancing rules. During that period of time arrangements were made to put people up in hotels.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Becky said: “We’re feeling positive about being back in person. Something we found is that people benefitted from being able to come in and the social connection that was missing in Covid. They didn’t have chance to sit and talk.

“When people are homeless they miss talking and they can go days without proper conversation. Our volunteers will sit and chat. It’s always nice to be able to do that.”

Figures released by the Office for National Statistics suggest almost two dozen homeless people have died in Wakefield over the past five years.

Housing charity Shelter said the situation across England and Wales was “utterly awful and unacceptable”.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Every year, the Office for National Statistics collates deaths of homeless people under the age of 75, their location, ages, and cause of death.

The latest estimates suggest there were 23 deaths in Wakefield between 2017 and 2021.

The figures mainly cover people who were sleeping rough or using emergency accommodation such as homeless shelters at or around the time of death.

An estimated 259 deaths were related to drug poisoning, accounting for 35 per cent of the total. Alcohol-specific causes and suicide accounted for 10 per cent (71 deaths) and 13 per cent (99) respectively.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Becky said: “We are here to get people off the streets. Our main aim is to make sure people are safe and have somewhere to go and won’t become seriously ill.”

But the night shelter can be challenging. The problems faced by some of the people who need to use the shelter means it isn’t always straightforward.

Becky said: "People may arrive under influence of drugs and alcohol and we never turn anyone away based on that.

"Our main thing is as long as they come in, be respectful and don’t cause danger to themselves or anyone else they are welcome to stay.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"They check-in their bags so we can be sure no substances are used in church or property.

"If problems do arise we can ring an ambulance and we do try to de-escalate any situation before further help is needed. The police are always there but I don’t think we’ve ever got to that point before.”

People in need can use the church’s showers and washing machines, and there’s a cabinet of bathroom essentials for men and women to be distributed.

Volunteers will also help support people with sorting doctor and hospital appointments, and bills.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The church also hosts sessions in which Covid jabs are available.

Throughout December the church has been running an inverted advent calendar where people are asked to donate specific items needed day by day.

The shelter is always looking for new volunteers and will be running regular training sessions throughout the year.

Becky said the food store is running very low and any donations are welcome. They would also welcome warm clothes like gloves, hats and scarves.

Drop-in sessions run 1pm to 3pm on Mondays and Thursday when items can be left with volunteers.

If you want to help out then email [email protected] or call mobile number 07477897929.

Related topics: