The Night Shelter has drawn support from faith communities since its start in 2003. It is almost unique in drawing volunteer support from Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities in Barnet. HAB speaks to Marcin Nocek, Charity Operations Manager of the Together in Barnet (TiB) Night Shelter about the wonderful work they do to support people experiencing homelessness…

“Charity Operations Manager is a fancy title… I prefer to call myself: ‘Co-ordinator of the Communal Night Shelter,’” says Marcin.

What do you mean by “communal”?

“Communal means a shared space to sleep, where different communities are involved in making the shelter succeed. Every year the shelter is open over the winter period from the end of October until the third week in April. It is run in rotation with the help of some wonderful co-ordinators and volunteers from different local churches and synagogues.”

Do the clients stay in the churches and synagogues?

“Yes, they do and it is very well organised. People from different communities come in and run the shelter. For example, on Monday, the clients may stay in a church where everything is provided including dinner and breakfast. It is a safe, warm space to stay overnight. I organise and prepare bedding for them. Then on Tuesday, they will move to another venue, a synagogue for example. We move all the bedding so that they don’t need to worry about any of that.”

What is your role?

“HAB Day Centre is our referral point. They assess the guests then they speak to me about a new guest. And I always say ‘yes’ to all referrals. I explain the rules and procedures and introduce guests to the night shelter. Additionally, I support guests with SIM cards, and those without access to benefits with oyster cards so that they can travel around easily, to the different night shelters. I carry out risk assessments and oversee all the shelters to ensure everything is running smoothly during the season. I also provide training for the co-ordinators and the volunteers, and I make sure that I am at the other end of the phone or there in person to help.

“Our aim is to break the cycle of homelessness, the danger of being on the street.”

What is the environment of the Night Shelter like for the clients?

“Understandably before the first night, they often feel nervous, but as soon as they walk in they feel the warm, homely environment that we provide and they soon relax. Some places have pool tables, ping-pong tables, books and other activities for the clients to enjoy. Some clients become so good at ping-pong that they could join the ping-pong Olympics! There is a real sense of camaraderie between those who help and the clients. It doesn’t matter who you are – everyone is welcome.” 

So what is your motivation for taking on a role like this?

“I have a few reasons, but coming from Poland, I understand how difficult it can be finding work and accommodation and navigating a system that you don’t know much about, to get the help you need. TiB is working very closely with HAB and we are in process of merging to become one charity. They stay with us for as long as they need to, until they are moved to more permanent accommodation with the help of amazing key workers from HAB. We are proud of our record for 2022, where guests stayed in the shelter for an average of four to six weeks. We moved 95 per cent of the clients into accommodation last year. I try to motivate them by repeatedly saying: ‘No wasting time on my watch, you will change your life for the better.’”

What’s your favourite part of the job?

“Everything is good, the contact I have with the clients, volunteers from different multi-faith communities. Most of the conversations I have are with the clients. It is wonderful to see them trying to be positive despite having disappointing experiences. We are the only night shelter in Barnet so the work we do is vital. The clients help and listen to each other. It’s a very supportive environment.

“From my perspective, the co-ordinators and volunteers are priceless, and the involvement of the churches and synagogues is crucial. Unfortunately we are losing volunteers nationally, so every bit of help we can get is crucial!”

What are the plans for Christmas?

A Christmas night shelter will be open 24/7 for six nights and the clients won’t need to move around. They will be given all the support needed. As HAB is closed during Christmas and New Year, this helps them to stay in one place. Last Christmas they didn’t want to leave!”

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