Connal's Blog - Glasgow Winter Night Shelter
Rangers Charity Foundation Director Connal Cochrane recently visited Glasgow City Mission’s Winter Night Shelter to volunteer for the evening following the Foundation’s donation of £70,000 to the project. Here Connal shares his experiences of that night and the importance of the initiative to those who find themselves without a safe place to sleep.
Our partnership with Glasgow City Mission (GCM) has been such a positive one this season and I wanted to be able to see for myself how the Winter Night Shelter operates and how people affected by homelessness are supported.
I went along just after 9pm on a Tuesday evening in early March with Graham Steven from GCM as staff and volunteers arrived to prepare the building and be ready to welcome people when the doors opened at 10pm.
A number of staff are employed to run Glasgow Winter Night Shelter and work on a rota system throughout the winter months, usually four nights on and four off. Every single night these staff are augmented by volunteers, and working together, the sleeping mats and freshly laundered covers and pillow cases are laid out, hot drinks, toast and snacks prepared, volunteer roles agreed and everyone briefed on safety procedures ready for what the night may bring.
I spent the first 15 minutes putting fresh cases on all the pillows and then hearing from Billy the Manager about how the shelter operates and the situations that lead to people needing its support. As the time neared for the doors to open Graham took a moment to remind everyone what an important service they provide and to say a prayer.
At 10pm, the doors opened and one by one those looking for a warm place to spend the night are gradually welcomed into the night shelter. For the safety of everyone, each person is asked to leave all belongings in a specially provided bag for secure overnight storage and are also quickly scanned for metal objects.
If it’s their first night in the shelter a volunteer will ask them for some information about their circumstances if they are happy to provide this. Having this information allows the service to link in with the local authority and other services so that longer term and targeted support is more likely to be able to be given.
The maximum capacity of the shelter is 40 and as the first people began to arrive it was clear that it was going to be a busy night. The weather was cold and wet and one of the first men to arrive was quickly given a blanket whilst his soaking trousers were put in the tumble dryer. It was clear he also had other issues and staff and volunteers spent quite a bit of time with him to check on his wellbeing, reassure him and ensure that he stayed warm and got something hot to drink and some toast.
After helping to serve some hot drinks and make toast and jam I chatted to some of the arrivals and then helped other volunteers to secure, label and store the belongings of people arriving. There was a real mixture of people and truly heart wrenching that their personal situation, a brokenness in their lives really, had brought them here to the shelter that night.
It’s a tragedy that this is happening in our city but also powerful and heartening to know that every night during the winter Glasgow City Mission, with the help of its partners and volunteers, are doing their best to ensure that people don’t have to spend a cold night out in the open.
The other thing that struck me that evening was that everyone was treated and respected as an individual. Many of the staff and volunteers were on first name terms with people, in fact maybe for some that was the only personal recognition and familiarity that they are receiving in life at the moment.
As the number of arrivals continued, there were more and more things to respond to for the staff and volunteers. One gentleman had a badly bruised ankle that would need further medical examination. Another had severe eczema over a large part of his back and had clearly been sleeping rough for some time.
A woman with addiction issues arrived but then left again. Others with similar issues seemed to become calm in the sanctuary of the shelter and no doubt too from sheer exhaustion from being outside and wandering from place to place all day.
Whilst some wanted to lie down and sleep others were clearly very hungry and grateful to be able to receive extra toast and jam. There were also people seeking asylum, people from other countries in Europe, women and men. In all, 40 people spent the night at the shelter that night, people like you and me but whose lives have come up against unknown misfortunes, relationship breakdowns, tragedies, addictions or circumstances.
It’s clear that Glasgow City Mission and the wider support services linked with the Winter Night Shelter are doing their best to bring shelter, human warmth and dignity to people. I wish such a service wasn’t needed here in Glasgow, but unfortunately it is and I’m proud of and grateful to all our supporters and to their friends and families who donated towards this special cause.”