“Whatever has brought these men and women to our shelter, few that we meet have even the weakest hopes that life may get better. … the greatest challenge for Friends is not material. It is to be part, by whatever means, of the process that restores and nourishes self-worth in those who have lost every last grain of it.”Quaker Homeless Action (QHA) is a charitable organisation bringing services and friendship to homeless people (rough sleepers) in Britain. Almost all of QHA’s income is donated by individuals and Quaker Meetings.
In recent years donations have been around ï¿½30,000 each year. QHA does most of its work in London, but the council of QHA are continually seeking to assist like minded charity groups throughout Britain. All QHA’s work is done by unpaid volunteers – Quakers and non-Quakers – except that in recent years an administrator has been employed temporarily each year to help run Quaker Open Christmas.Open Christmas’Quaker Open Christmas’ is still a main focus for QHA activity.
It provides a welcome, food and shelter for homeless people in London over the holiday season. It also gives volunteers an opportunity to learn about the lives and problems of others, and to do something practical in response. QHA works closely with Crisis and with two drug rehabilitation groups, Equinox and Mainliners, which enables them to help house guests and direct them to drug rehabilitation programmes if they wish. This work goes on throughout the year as the other groups are aware of our guests.
Some would say that that the QHA are serving the people no one else wants. This is because we do allow dogs and we do not turn someone away who is on drugs although usage at the shelter is forbidden.Tea RunAs an extension of the work traditionally carried out in the days of Toynbee Hall and the soup kitchen at Pott Street Church in the East End, volunteers started taking tea and sandwiches to people sleeping rough in the City and West End in the 1980s.This has continued every Saturday since with volunteers from PMs around. London. QHA provides co-ordination and limited funding. The Tea Run enables Friends to make contact with people who are homeless, a contact which we hope is at least as valuable as the tea and sandwiches. It also carries on the work begun at the Open Christmas.Mobile LibraryAt Christmas, 1999, QHA launched a weekly mobile library serving central London. This enables the homeless people we are serving to have access to books. With no address, they are unable to borrow from local libraries. It is much appreciated. We have had requests for books on subjects ranging from childcare to plumbing, for dictionaries to help in learning English as a foreign language, for a Bible and the Koran, for books on learning about Quakers as well as the expected fiction – especially science fiction and fantasy, thrillers and horror. Helping to feed the mind is just as valuable as feeding the stomach. We were fortunate to receive a grant to cover the purchase and conversion of the van and the first year’s running costs. Following a letter in The Bookseller, books have been donated by publishers and literary agents as well as by many individuals. On-going help is always needed to process these books for use on the van as well as more volunteers, especially drivers for the runs.We are also carrying leaflets about schemes for poor or non-readers and those those suffering from dyslexia.CampaignsQHA supports the Churches National Housing Coalition (CNHC), which campaigns for Government policies which will help homeless people, and is represented on the Quaker Housing and Social Inclusion Group (HSIG).;Seed MoneyAlthough QHA started in London and most of its activities are still based there, homelessness is not confined to the capital. QHA has provided ‘seed money’ as well as support and encouragement to help start up projects around the country. These have included support to several rent guarantee schemes, funding for starter packs for newly housed homeless people to get the basic necessities for their flats, aid to a hostel in short term difficulty and other related projects. We have begun a project in conjunction with BIA Quaker Social Action to provide a guarantee against damage to the property for newly housed young people. Occasionally seed money is available for other projects for homeless people.VolunteersMore volunteers are always needed, to replace people who have had to move on, and to allow for services to be improved and extended. Volunteering is not an easy option. Working with homeless people can be challenging and, increasingly, volunteers are expected to understand, and observe Hygiene and Health and Safety regulations which (rightly) apply as much to a temporary soup kitchen as to the Ritz or a hospital. The rewards, however, can he considerable.New ChallengesIn recent years, in spite of a number of charitable and Government initiatives to combat homelessness, economic circumstances and changing legislation have combined to make the threat of homelessness more real for many. This has been increased by cuts in Social Service budgets. Newly housed Council tenants, asylum seekers, ex-prisoners and unemployed single people are finding the safety net less supportive than in the past. In the last year, QHA has responded to requests for funding from rent guarantee schemes involving Friends away ftom London, and a shelter for vulnerable young people. We would like to do more, financially and in a practical way, but we are constrained by funding and also by the fact that many of our volunteers are already very stretched.OrganisationQHA is a registered charity and a company limited by guarantee. This allows us to accept Charities Aid Foundation vouchers. We are governed by a Council of about sixteen Friends and attenders who are guided by an Annual General Meeting. There are many exciting questions about how we can respond to growing needs, what new work we should take on and how Quakers may best contribute. We hope Friends will continue to offer their support and guidance.