Homeless people in Birmingham will be given the option of sleeping in churches rather than the freezing streets this February.
In a pilot program, five churches – including Birmingham Central Baptist Church – will open their doors on different nights throughout the week to offer food and accommodation to 10 people.
The project is led by the Birmingham Diocese and Thrive, a church urban fund initiative, with support from a Christian charity, Housing Justice, and the Birmingham Christian Homeless Forum. It opened on Thursday (Feb. 2).
“Working with the homeless has always been on our radar,” said Liz Tyler, joint minister at Birmingham Central Baptist Church with husband Paul.
“We are within a 10-minute walk from the city center and so are aware of the problem, and we already work with a local charity (Reach Out Network) that works with the homeless.
“When we heard about this scheme, we thought it was a great idea, so we took it into our church, and the response was overwhelming. We had a number of people interested in being volunteers.”
The rough sleepers will register at a central church and then be guided to whichever church is open that night.
Each evening requires about 15 to 16 volunteers spread over three shifts. Air-beds and blankets are being provided by the diocese.
The night shelter program is a “practical response to a very needy problem,” according to Paul Tyler. Although the local council’s last rough sleeper count was six, a central day center for the homeless is used by around 300 people each year.
He added that the response came from an ecumenical desire to live out the gospel: the volunteers are drawn from several denominations.
“I don’t think you can read the gospel without a very strong vision of God’s heart for the needy, not just in your own community but also the stranger,” Paul Tyler said. “As a church, we are called to express God’s love, care and compassion.
“This is not about Birmingham Central Baptist Church: we are part of what God is doing among a number of churches in Birmingham. Working together is one of the wonderful things about this.
“There is such a big need in this society, and it’s time for the church to come forward. It’s a start and we hope it can expand.”