Behind the scenes at Milton Keynes’ winter night shelter

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One third of the homeless people using the city’s Winter Night Shelter are in employment - but still can’t afford anywhere to live in MK.

The surprising fact reinforces the Citizen’s 2017 campaign for more low cost housing and shelters to wipe out the need for rough sleeping in MK.

The Winter Night Shelter MK is a charity almost entirely run by volunteers that provides a range of services and

support to homeless people in Milton Keynes.

It runs through the coldest months of the year, from December to March, and since it started in 2011 has hosted 320 guests.

It has also provided 3,587 bed nights, served 7,174 meals and helped 165 people move into longer term accommodation.

WNSMK’s short-term aim is to provide safe places where homeless can spend the night during the winter.

Its longer term objective is to help people out of homelessness - an ambition that’s becoming ever harder to achieve.

The charity currently looks after 15 guests each night and has plans to double capacity next year.

We recently visited WNSMK’s reception centre at the Old Bus Station at Elder Gate to talk to one of the charity’s founders Richard Wightman,.

When we arrived just before 5pm on a cold evening guests were already arriving promptly for when registrations opened 15 minutes later.

All guests had already been assessed by Daniel, one of WNSMK’s few paid staff, who ensures that there are no signs of substance abuse too great to be managed, which could endanger them, volunteers or other guests.

Richard described the changes in homelessness he has seen over the past six years.

He said: “There are more homeless women in MK which results in some different issues from being a man on the streets.

“A fact which people always find surprising is that around a third of our guests are in employment, but still can’t get accommodation because there simply isn’t enough that they can afford.”

“With buoyant employment resulting in more people wanting to come to MK, it is becoming increasingly tough to place people in more permanent accommodation as housing,”

The Winter Night Shelter opened its doors in mid December and is due to close in the middle of March, when hopefully the weather gets warmer.

The charity has room for 15 homeless people each night but is planning to expand by next winter.

Its base is the Old Bus Station, formerly the Buszy, which is owned by MK Development Partnership.

But becasue people cannot sleep there, they are ferried to local churches and halls.

Winter Night Shelter chairman has thanked Milton Keynes Development Partnership for allowing them to use the Old Bus Station building rent free.

He said: “We are very grateful that MKDP is not charging rent for this year.

“The Old Bus Station is an ideal location and we are working with MKDP to agree a longer-term solution that meets our needs as well as theirs.”

MKDP is currently considering a proposal for the building to be shared permanently by several charities and groups.

The WNSMK operates with an army of 450 volunteers from all over the city.

They greet guests with a hot drink at the Buszy reception centre, opposite CMK rail station.

People can choose to talk to other guests or volunteers, watch TV or just sit alone, knowing they are warm and safe.

At 7.15pm a minibus arrives to ferry them to one of seven locations around Milton Keynes.

Each venue hosts one night per week and will have around volunteers to cook dinner, chat with guests, provide entertainment and organise the overnight beds.

The next morning, volunteers provide breakfastthen clear up to return the facility back to its usual use as a church or community hall.

At 8.15am guests are driven back to the Buszy to collect their belongings and begin their day - very often back on the streets.

So far this winter WNSMK has found permanent homes for 10 people. Most had to move out of MK due to lack of affordable accomodation here