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The harrowing sight of a rough sleeper lying amid the snow in February of this year

Homeless night shelter makes urgent appeal for volunteers

The organisers of the Canterbury Night Shelter are appealing to the public to help them staff the overnight accommodation they offer to 20 homeless people each night.

As of Tuesday there were no volunteers lined up for Christmas Eve and only two for Christmas Day on the database run by charity Catching Lives.

Some volunteers are needed for just 30 minutes. These drive the bedding to one of the seven churches where the night shelter is located.

If volunteering in the evening, they will be needed at about 7pm. In the morning, the bedding transport starts at 7.45am.

Other volunteers work in the kitchen, preparing an early evening meal at the Catching Lives Centre near Canterbury East station.

Catching Lives is based in Station Road East

Others stay overnight at whichever church in the Canterbury Together network is hosting the shelter that night.

Since it opened on October 1, the shelter has averaged 16 guests a night. Most are men, but the numbers of women have risen to three in recent weeks.

The reasons for becoming homeless are far less dramatic than the public might expect, according to deputy co-ordinator Lei Brophy.

“Most of our clients don’t have major health problems,” he said. “Most of them are in good health.”

Job loss is a common contributor to their losing their home. Lei says that finding them a job is often a quick and effective way of getting them off the streets again.

He is having particular success at the moment, for instance, in finding them places on a construction industry training scheme, the Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS).

Courses are being run in central Canterbury and, once qualified, the participants are very well placed to get work.

Lei went on: “At any one time you could be one or two pay cheques away from being homeless. If someone makes one or two bad decisions, this can happen.”

Losing a job is usually just one factor. But, combined with losing their home, it can mean they end up sleeping rough. “Relationship breakdown is another factor,” he added. “If one person has all the power in terms of their name being on the lease, the other party can get put out.”

Catching Lives would like to have 14 volunteers per night. It can run on half that level or fewer — but struggles to do that long term. If the worst comes to the worst then guests can carry their own bedding to the church. “That would not be a problem for most of them,” said Lei.

“But we have one or two who would find it difficult. Usually I can find an angel who will help us out if we are short of volunteers.”

Log on to Catching Lives’ website for more information.

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