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Open Church project offers compassion and a bed for the night

Homeless people are to be invited to sleep inside Portsmouth churches to stave off the chill of winter.

Worshippers at churches of different denominations will throw open their doors to show Christian compassion to those who would otherwise be sleeping on the streets.
 
They hope to pilot the project – called Open Church – for four weeks in January and February 2018 with the support of the Society of St James, a Hampshire charity that already works with the homeless. Among the churches involved are St Jude’s, St Simon’s, Immanuel Baptist and Kings Church in Southsea.
 
The idea is that each church opens its doors on a different day of the week. So volunteers from one church would feed and host homeless people overnight on a Monday, another church would open on a Tuesday and so on.
 
Areas away from the main worship areas will be set aside in each church building for the guests, who will be given camp beds, sleeping bags and blankets. Each guest will be referred to the project by the Society of St James (SSJ), which last winter provided shelter for between 35 and 45 homeless people each night.
 
SSJ operations director Jane Smith said: “SSJ is one of Portsmouth City Council's commissioned third sector providers, delivering a range of support and intervention services in the city. In the winter of 2016-17, SSJ provided a successful Winter Beds Service, offering warmth and shelter every night to between 35 and 45 homeless people.
 
“We plan to provide a similar service this winter and are delighted to be supporting the churches in Portsmouth. We are proud to be able to offer training and practical help to the dedicated group of volunteers who have agreed to provide this much-needed facility for those experiencing homelessness in Portsmouth.”
 
The Open Church project is being led by the Rev Adam Denley, curate at St Jude’s Church, Southsea, and Lorna Sandland, community development worker at St Simon’s Church, Southsea.
 
It seeks to complement the work churches already do in the city with those who are homeless. That includes the annual Christmas voucher scheme, which allows churchgoers to buy Christmas gifts for the homeless and vulnerable families; and Sunday Suppers at St Simon’s, which has provided a hot meal for homeless people every Sunday for the past 27 years.
 
Other existing church projects include Breakthru at St Simon’s, which teaches new skills to those who are homeless, struggle with addiction or face mental health issues; and the Friday Fridge at St Jude’s, when the church is open on Friday evenings for those facing similar issues.
 
The Open Church project also replicates similar kinds of work being carried out by churches in Brighton and Hove, and also in Horsham. Churches in Horsham offer food and shelter to homeless people on different nights of the week in the same way as is planned in Portsmouth.
 
Adam said: “The number of people who are actually sleeping rough on our streets has increased over the past few years.  
 
“We want to break down barriers between those who attend our churches and those who happen to be homeless. Our aim is to effect permanent and positive change in the lives of those who are in difficult circumstances for whatever reason.
 
“Many people in our churches want to help those they see on the street, but aren’t always quite sure what to do. Hopefully this will give them a really practical way of showing God’s love to those who are among the most marginalised in our society.”
 
Any church that is interested in being involved can contact Adam via St Jude’s parish office on office@stjudes-southsea.org.uk or 023 9275 0442.

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