2 July 2022
Churches are opening their doors to offer shelter to people experiencing homelessness in Melbourne’s south-east this winter.
St Agnes’ Glen Huntly, St Clement’s Elsternwick and Ormond Anglican Church all provide one night’s shelter a week as part of the Glen Eira Winter Shelter.
The churches are working in partnership with Glen Huntly Seventh-day Adventist Church, Murrumbeena Uniting Church, Eastleigh Community Church, and Holy Cross Catholic Church
St Agnes’ vicar the Reverend Alexander Ross said the shelter was a great way for Christians to be actively doing the work of Jesus, in responding to the needs in their community, and doing so across traditions.
The Winter Shelter is coordinated by Christian charities Compass Community Care and Stable One and has more than 150 volunteers. Stable One operate similar shelters in Frankston, Shepparton, Sunbury and Wangaratta.
Dr Ross said the project ran last year, but COVID curtailed it after a couple of weeks. He said this year, it was going full strength, running from the first day of winter to the last.
Churches involved provide a hot dinner, overnight accommodation, and breakfast the next morning. During the day there is a nearby drop-in centre.
Some churches in the program offer accommodation in their halls, but at St Agnes’ guests stay in the church itself.
“It’s a beautiful space to do it, particularly at St Agnes because it’s an old church, it’s very atmospheric,” Dr Ross said.
“Some of the guests were saying the other week how much they love just being in that space and waking up to the beautiful hammerbeam roof in the morning.”
Dr Ross said volunteers for the program were drawn not just from the participating churches, but also from the local community – and that there had been a strong sense of community among volunteers. He said some non-Christian community volunteers at St Agnes’ had event ended up joining the congregation.
“It’s actually an interesting community of volunteers as well because you get to meet other Christians from other churches and people in the community too,” he said.
“You can see there’s been transformation in the lives of the volunteers as well through being involved in the program.”
Dr Ross said the program had grown, from one guest at St Agnes’ first night shift to about six. He was expecting it would reach maximum capacity of about a dozen people.
Dr Ross said most of the shelter’s guests wanted to escape their current situation, and the program had been able to help many make moves towards more permanent accommodation.
“It’s very individually focused so we get to know people quite well and that means that it’s not just a crisis stop-gap. It is able to make a much more structural and transformative difference to people’s situations,” he said.