Some of you may be aware that during the last two years I have worked on a project in Portsmouth called the Open Church Project to get the homeless off of the streets during the hardest months of the winter. On the strength of the success of this and when I was elected Deputy Mayor of Gosport, I proposed to initiate a similar floating bed project here in Gosport. Now as Mayor of Gosport I am pleased to inform you that starting from the preliminary meeting in April 2019, that the Gosport Open Doors project has been created, with a steering committee of marvellous people from all over Gosport and from all walks of life.
After all these months of meetings and organising I am proud to say that four churches, Waterside; St. Mary’s Gosport, Christchurch and Freedom have volunteered their premises to house the homeless during 8 weeks of the winter, this project started 2 weeks ago on the 6th January 2020, under the umbrella of Caritas and the Gosport Borough Council.
I am both proud and humbled by the response of the people of Gosport and indeed some volunteers from Fareham. Over 300 people came forward to volunteer and last night at one of the churches we had 11 guests. The volunteers come to prepare at around 6.30 and the guests are invited in at 7pm with a hot drink and a 2 or sometimes 3 course meal, with the company of the volunteers always eating with them. They are given the opportunity to be listened to by wonderfully caring people, who from the feedback so far have had incredible experiences themselves just by volunteering.
After the meal they can play board games; Scrabble seems to be among the favourites before they get into a comfortable and clean bed.
At 10 pm the next team starts and prepares all for bed and sleep the night with them, taking turns in the team of at least 4 volunteers to sleep and stay awake.
The next team starts at 6 am; these volunteers cook breakfast and prepare sandwiches for the packed lunch for each of the guests. They also pack up the bedding and clean the venue before they leave at around 8.30. Amazing people doing amazing things!
We have procured the premises of Y Services at Forton Road, where 2 volunteers man the office on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings to allow the guests to come for showers, have a haircut from a volunteer hairdresser and a visit from a doctor. We are trying to arrange the service of a chiropodist and dentist.
Having given the guest’s time to settle and create trusting relationships with the volunteers, tonight I have spoken at length with some of the guests to find out more about them and to offer them the help they need to procure a home of their own. I will arrange visits from the benefits and housing departments to come to them and I am delighted with the assistance that my Gosport Borough Council staff have given with this project.