Tier 4 rules prevent homeless people from having their Christmas celebration in Milton Keynes

The city's Winter Night Shelter has been forced to cancel its plans to give dozens of homeless people a special Christmas Day this year.

Tuesday, 22nd December 2020, 7:07 pm
Updated Wednesday, 23rd December 2020, 9:26 am

The shelter had planned to open its Unity Park building to rough sleepers who are currently living in hotel rooms provided by the council during the crisis.

They were going to give them a socially-distanced day to remember, with a slap-up cooked by volunteers turkey lunch, gifts and festive treats.

But, after the government's announcement at the weekend, the charity was forced to have a rapid re-think. Now all it is able to offer is a Christmas lunch in a plastic container, which will be passed through a serving hatch while the recipient stands outside.

WNS volunteers provide food in takeaway containers each day

The homeless people will then take it back to their temporary hotel rooms, provided by Mk Council during the crisis. But often there is no microwave to re-heat it or no kitchen facilities.

The alternative is to eat their Christmas lunch when it is still hot while standing on the pavement - probably in the rain that is forecast over the festive season.

The takeaway lunch service will be open between 12 noon and 4.30pm on Christmas Day and people will also be given a gift and a pre-packed food bag to take back to eat later in the day if they wish.

Sara Millington, Communications Manager for the Winter Night Shelter MK (WNSMK) said, “We recognise how essential our services are, and have to balance that against the need to do them as safely as possible. It has been an extremely tough and heart-wrenching decision to suspend our day centre activities and change our Christmas Day plans at short notice"

Pre-Covid, community halls provided perfect eating and sleeping places for the homeless

She added: "We are pleased that we can still help people over this period by making changes rather than suspending our activities, however. Given the latest public health advice and the top-level restrictions in place, we have a responsibility to do everything we can to reduce non-essential contact

and help minimise opportunities for the transmission of the virus for the safety of our guests, volunteers, staff and the wider locality."

Some of the homeless people have been given rooms at the Campanile Hotel in Fenny Stratford. As this location makes it difficult for those

guests without transport to access the services at Unity Park Station the WNSMK are also planning to provide Christmas Day dinner via a meals-on wheels arrangement, and are working with the hotel to ensure that everyone is catered for and can receive gifts and food.

During previous years the hard-working charity has taken in a large group of rough sleepers every Winter, providing them with help services during the day, hot meals, and transporting them to various community halls around the borough to sleep each night.

This year, Covid rules about mass gatherings put a stop to the tried and tested system. Instead, with the rough sleepers spending their nights in hotel rooms where they are unable to cook food, WNS focused its energy on providing the best possible daytime services.

The Unity Park building, a former bus station opposite CMK station, was turned into a socially distanced base, with meals brought in by volunteers, help and welfare services on hand, and pack-up suppers give out each evening.

"Public health guidance has made it very clear that communal shelters with shared air space overnight and shared bathroom facilities should only be used as a last resort this winter. We therefore expect most homeless people will be spending the winter in individual rooms potentially isolated from their social groups and without access to cooking facilities," said the WNS spokesperson.

She added: "For this reason, our primary focus will not be on emergency accommodation this season, but rather on how we rise to the challenge of ensuring that everyone who needs it has access to adequate food provision, welfare services and supportive companionship to combat isolation and loneliness. We will therefore be maximising all possible use of our centre and reception café, Unity Park Station as a hub for the homeless this winter.

"We will continue to be there for the homeless, however, providing food via a takeaway service on weekdays from 10am-2pm ((12pm-4.30pm on Christmas Day Christmas Day) and are continuing to ensure people can have appointments with our Welfare Team to help them access essential services such as medical care, help with access to benefits, counselling/therapy and searches for longer-term accommodation options.

"We are also continuing to provide access to showers and toilets. We very much hope that when restrictions ease we will be able to return to our day centre model for people to benefit from the company and support of our volunteers in a more relaxed environment."

One way people can help WNS carry out their work is to make a donation. Currently, what the charity needs much more than clothes, bedding and food, is money to build its plans and continue its work throughout 2021.

You can make a one-off donation or pledge a small monthly amount here .

The charity has thanked staff at SEAT UK kindly donated to the shelter in lieu of being able to have their usual staff Christmas dinner. Sara Millington said: “We are grateful to SEAT UK for bringing something positive out of the situation. Although we will be unable to lay on the Christmas festivities we had planned, this donation will still help us to ensure that everyone who needs it has access to food this Christmas and our welfare team can continue to be available to people in crisis.”