Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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As the mercury drops...

December 08 2010
© Birmingham Christmas Shelter 2010 © Birmingham Christmas Shelter 2010
...a shelter opens in Birmingam

In mid-November, Birmingham City Council released a statement about cold weather provision. Basic overnight shelter at the Salvation Army's William Booth Centre will provide "an opportunity for rough sleepers to rest in a lounge area and to access refreshments and a hot breakfast. Support staff are available to conduct needs/risk assessments, explore temporary and permanent accommodation options and to refer to the Homeless Services Centre". However, this facility will only be available when a forecast of 0 degrees Celsius or below is predicted for a single night, and as official figures state that there are only nine rough sleepers in Birmingham, it will be available to a maximum of 10 people.

Regardless of temperature, however, the Birmingham Christmas Shelter will offer basic overnight accommodation for up to 100 people on a 24-hour basis from 23 to 29 December. It is a big but well organised operation receiving up to 150 guests a day, with around 80 in the centre at any one time. Dogs are allowed provided they are kept on a lead.

The charity has been running for over 30 years and is important, as many other charities will close for Christmas. Generally, the centre has been well received by people in need, though some have questioned the decision to employ a professional security team. However, trustee Mike Davy defends this: "The security staff are there to ensure the comfort and safety of everyone. No one is allowed alcohol or drugs within the centre. Trustees, volunteers and guests alike are searched upon entering".

Other than the security staff, the centre relies entirely on around 200 volunteers. They are particularly needed to help with the catering: "We provide three big, hearty meals a day," Davy said, "and an extra special traditional roast dinner on Christmas Day. There are also tea bar facilities and a sandwich bar operates throughout the day."

Other services such as haircutting and a foot specialist will be available, as will advice agencies such as the Samaritans and the Citizens Advice Bureau. Davy said: "We encourage our volunteers to mix in and get chatting to our guests, and we try to keep them entertained. We have a TV, and we do karaoke and several rounds of bingo a day. However, we depend on groups volunteering their time to come in and entertain. We are still finalising the programme - in previous years we have had DJs and guitarists and this year we will have a choir".

The shelter is at St George's Hub, Great Hampton Row (off Great Hampton Street) Newtown, Birmingham B19 3JG. Tel: 07846 299 336. Bus service 46/46a from Bull Street stops outside St George's. Buses 16, 74 and 79 stop in Great Hampton Street.