Latest from the Oxford Winter Night Shelter

Rough sleepers got respite from the coldest months of 2020 once again thanks to the Oxford Winter Night Shelter (OWNS).

The city shelter is run by volunteers throughout January, February and March, giving beds to rough sleepers. They are referred by St Mungo’s, the charity that runs an outreach team for Oxford City Council. It first set up its camp beds for the homeless in January 2018.

The latest annual report, released recently, states that 450 volunteers, 50 per cent of whom had served OWNS in previous years worked 1,451 shifts between them, with the total amount of hours equalling 7,289. It is estimated that if the volunteers were paid the minimum wage, without allowance for nights and weekend working, the salary bill would have been £63,560. “It would be impossible to continue this provision without them,” says the Revd Mary Gurr, Oxford’s chaplain to the homeless.

The only two paid staff members this year were Zachary Jackman, project manager and Amanda Higgin, assistant project manager. Venues used for the shelter were the Christian Life Centre, Greyfriars, Jericho Community Centre, New Road Baptist Church, St Alban’s, St Aldate’s, St Clement’s, St. Columba’s, St Ebbe’s, St Matthew’s, St Michael at the North Gate and Wesley Memorial.

The Gatehouse – a well-known charity that provides meals and other support to the homeless in Oxford -offered shelter for guests from 8am to 10am Monday to Friday.

“They were given refreshments and were able to access the shower,” says Mary. “Towels were provided and laundered free of charge by the generosity of County Textiles.”

Take-up for OWNS 2020 was slow at first, possibly due to Oxford City Council’s new Floyd’s Row facility, which provided winter night shelter accommodation for the first time, along with the mild winter.

As the coronavirus crisis loomed land lockdown began, OWNS continued, but with dwindling numbers of guests and volunteers, closed a few days early, on 24 March.

The Revd Mary Gurr, Oxford’s Homelessness Chaplain

Since then OWNS has supported charities for the homeless and vulnerably housed including The Porch, The Gatehouse, ACT, and Emmaus all of whom are supporting their own members, and St Mungo’s.

With factors including the current pandemic and council provision for the homeless,  it is impossible to say where OWNS will be in winter 2021.

“Whatever happens, the trustees are unanimous in wanting OWNS to continue as a charity, reaching out to homeless people in Oxfordshire. With the great generosity of our donors this has been possible, and hopefully will be in the future,” says Mary.

“God continues to bless our work, and we are privileged to be able to serve our brothers and sisters who find themselves without a roof over their heads. Our thanks go to all who have supported us financially, in practical ways, with their time and by acting as a voice for our homeless neighbours. May God bless us all,” she added.

Read the full report on the OWNS website.