St Mark’s is one of the night shelter locations for Homeless Action in Barnet and each Sunday a team of volunteers serve an evening meal, lay out the church hall as a temporary dormitory and then serve breakfast on Monday morning.
A team effort across the borough ensures that from October to March up to 16 homeless people who are sleeping rough are fed and housed each night at various churches and synagogues.
St Mark’s and the Barnet parish church of St John the Baptist are among the churches taking it in turns each winter to provide one of the night shelters.
Parish clergy and volunteers say the fact they regularly have a full house demonstrates the need for society to help those who have fallen on hard times.
Single homeless people who are sleeping rough can qualify for a place at a night shelter if they attend the Homeless Action in Barnet day centre at Woodhouse Road, North Finchley.
A list of names is sent to the church or synagogue that is providing shelter that night and the first task for the volunteers is to unload bags containing sleeping bags, mattresses and personal belongings that are transferred each day from one shelter to the next.
Doors open at 7pm and after a welcoming cup of tea, volunteers serve the evening meal and later two of the volunteers bed down for the night with their guests – one in the women’s room and another with the men. Next morning another group of volunteers serves breakfast.
St Mark’s joined the night shelter programme at the suggestion of the Reverend Chapam, who is team vicar for both St Mark’s and St Stephen’s.
“It’s so important that we are able to make a contribution otherwise people would be sleeping rough out in the cold, and that can be fatal for them.”
Geoff Nicholson and his wife Elaine, from St John’s Church, are two long-standing volunteers who were both on duty at St Mark’s the night ten homeless men and four homeless women arrived at the shelter.
Waiting for the guests were a choice of chicken or lamb dishes, salad, fruit and other refreshments.
“This really is a team effort, with volunteers cooking the meal, others serving, and then two of us sleeping the night at the church because we have to be there for safety’s sake.
“We all find our volunteering gives us a different perspective on life, a reminder that we can all do something to help the weakest in society.
“A lot of the homeless are out of work, but some do have jobs, and although departure time is usually after 7am, we do get up early if someone has to get off to work.”
Another volunteer John Hay said the Sunday night shelter was so important during the winter because the Homeless Action in Barnet day centre was closed at weekends so there was nowhere the men and women could keep warm.
“When it’s really cold we see how much appreciation there is for what we do. Guests often arrive freezing cold, desperate to get in the warm and have a cup of tea and then a meal.”
Mr Hay said their efforts were supported with donations and offers of help.
“This winter we were given £1,000 by Gary Murphy, the landlord at the Mitre. That money has been invaluable as it means we can buy plenty of cereals and eggs and bacon for cooked breakfasts. His money is also helping to pay for the heating.”