Glasgow Night Shelter was founded in December 2011, by a small team who recognised an upsetting gap in the provision of homeless services. Due to rules surrounding the delivery of shelters and benefits, refused asylum seekers and homeless non-EU migrants are typically ineligible for support, and cannot access the normal homeless services that are provided throughout the city. Located in a church hall in the west end of Glasgow, the night shelter is able to offer a warm meal and safe place to stay for up to 15 men who fit into these categories, and therefore have nowhere else to go. They are open 365 days per year, and the team is made up almost entirely of volunteers. Our Trust has given a number of grants to this incredible organisation over the years. Some of the JMA Team went out to their base to meet with Phil Jones, Glasgow Night Shelter’s Co-ordinator, and a number of the volunteers. We were also really fortunate to speak with some of the men accessing their services that evening. Watch the short film below, created by the Night Shelter, to find out more about their work, and how it is such a beneficial service for so many.
Phil told us that quite a few of the men have been staying at the shelter for a number of years, while others will come in and out. References can come from the Refugee Council, the Red Cross and other organisations, though much of the time, the men will simply show up, having heard about the service through word of mouth. Sometimes, individuals will rely on the service for a long time, and then disappear. The team have learned this will usually mean they have found a place to stay with an individual or family in the community of the country they originate from. However, due to circumstances, this is often a lot to ask from people as they will typically not have a lot for themselves. So they will be able to use the shelter as a ‘layover’ between different temporary stays. Due to their status, these men are unable to work or access anything funded by public money. Phil explains that this leads to complete destitution, and without the shelter, they would have to sleep rough, making them vulnerable to violence and exploitation, as well as malnutrition and ill health.
It is incredibly hard for many of us to imagine the position that these men are in. They are not allowed to receive any form of benefits, meaning they have absolutely no financial support. Phil discussed how this factors into every daily task and necessity, from personal hygiene, clothing and food, to access to public transport and the use of a phone for communication. “It’s difficult to imagine that some men have lived in this way for over a year. It’s not difficult, however, to understand the destructive effect this situation has on the self-esteem and mental health of the men.”
With all of this in mind, Glasgow Night Shelter came to the JMA at the beginning of 2017, asking for a donation towards their new Hardship Fund project, and they were awarded £3000. The Hardship Fund was set up to supply further daily support outwith the men’s time at the shelter, by providing a small allowance to purchase the daily necessities. The men were given £15 every two weeks. Phil told us that most of the guys use the money to top up mobile phones, which allows them to keep in contact with family and friends at home. They also use it for bus fayres to get around the city, as many often end up exhausted from full days walking around the city centre, which is made even worse when it is raining and cold. It was incredibly touching to hear about this care and consideration for the men’s lives, even further than the services the Night Shelter already provided. It was clear that this small amount of money could make a significant impact on the lives of men who had been put in a situation where they were fully dependent on charity for everything. “Providing a small amount of cash to purchase necessities will give some of the control over their lives that the men need. This will rebuild self-esteem, give confidence, improve mental health and help practically in their day-to-day lives.”
We met some incredible people during our visit. One young Kurdish man sat to speak to us, and explained that his absolute dream was to attend Glasgow University to study political science. We also met Michael, from Zimbabwe, who had fled the Mugabe regime, forcing him to leave behind his very successful business. He has now been in Glasgow for 12 years. Michael discussed his cancer diagnosis with us, and explained that he uses his hardship fund to travel to Hunter Street Surgery, who provide health care for asylum seekers. He enthusiastically told us about a book he’d written on the streets, explaining that this focus “kept him afloat” and helped him when it seemed like all hope was lost. His book is called “My Life in Africa”, and now he’s wanting to write another! His positive attitude was astounding, from a man to had experienced immense challenges and difficulties throughout his life, and he was truly a remarkable character.
Glasgow Night Shelter could not run without its amazing volunteers. The team explained to us that they have a roster of around 150 volunteers, with typically 3 individuals working every night. They help cook meals, make sure everyone is comfortable, and befriend many of the guests. Phil told us that many of the volunteers are young people and students, who juggle their studies, part time work, and volunteering at the shelter. This night, we were lucky to meet Hannah, a Philosophy student at Glasgow University. She was set a task in one of her Philosophy classes, where they were looking at the concept of morality, and challenged to go and volunteer. She began volunteering at the shelter as work for university, and has now been there for quite a while. She volunteers there one night per week, depending on when she can manage to fit it into her busy schedule. This night, she had finished work at her part time job at 7pm, and was starting again at 9am the next day, so thought it would be ideal to finish at the shelter and head straight to work the next morning. We thought this type of commitment and dedication was amazing!
We’d like to say a huge thankyou to everyone at Glasgow Night Shelter. The brilliant work you do is making a significant difference to so many lives, and the kindness and compassion you show is inspiring.