For the first time a Catholic parish has been host to the WYDAN Night Shelter, the parish of Blessed John Henry Newman in Crossgates, Leeds.
WYDAN is a new charity, which is now in its fourth year. Basically it provides beds for up to 10 guests, failed destitute asylum seekers who are referred by either the British Red Cross or PAFRAS (Positive Action For Refugees and Asylum Seekers). The host community provides a shelter for a week or more. The shelter has been held in Churches of many denominations: Temples, Mosques, Synagogues, Quaker meeting houses and local Community centres.
Having helped in January at Crossgates Methodist, a number of the group from the Parish of Blessed John Henry Newman stayed together and it was suggested to our Parish priest and the Parish Pastoral Council that we should offer our facilities; this was agreed, but only if we worked Ecumenically. After many months of preparation, conversations, meetings, emails, phone calls and negotiations, most of our neighbouring Churches had signed up to help. We have had help from members of the surrounding churches and further afield, we have had sisters from 4 different religious orders, 2 vicars together with representatives of neighbourhood groups and a member of staff from a local funeral director. Some members of the Thursday afternoon Conversation club, in Mill Hill Chapel, City Square, also came and helped.
So on Monday 29th October the Conference Room of the Newman Centre was transformed into a comfortable home for our guests. Some said they felt safe, secure and warm and were able to sleep soundly in the knowledge that they were among friends, being cared for.
What did the volunteers do?
They prepared and served an evening meal and ate with our guests. A different menu on each evening, the food produced was to a very high standard. Afterwards they relaxed and enjoyed playing board games and having FUN!
You should have heard the laughter; it could be heard above the noise of fireworks going off all around us. One evening we played table tennis in the hall and we give grateful thanks to our Youth group who allowed us to use their table. On Sunday afternoon we went across the park to Christ Church, Manston who allowed us to enjoy their games facilities in their Church hall.
Some helpers stayed overnight with our guests, three in all; two of them were sleeping but one stayed awake with the Night Shelter phone, in the event of an emergency.
A wholesome breakfast was prepared by another band of helpers and if required a packed lunch was offered. We provided a weekly bus pass for our
guests, as they were out of the centre from approx 8.30 am until they returned in the evening around 5 pm. Some volunteers kept the areas clean and tidy, others washed the clothes of our guests and another offered a hairdressing service.
Why are the Asylum Seekers here?
All of our guests are actively pursuing their claim for Asylum in our country; they have fled situations we can barely imagine, and some have travelled the length of Europe. Many have been here for more than 10 years, they are NOT
entitled to claim Benefits, NO
housing is provided for them, they are NOT ALLOWED
to work; many are highly skilled and have been professionals in their own country, possessing skills which could easily be put to use for the benefit of our communities.
Some of our guests, sadly, were in the same position when we met them in January. Remember, we are just scratching the surface in the help we offer; there are many, many more in the same predicament.
People have been extremely generous in donating toiletries, towels, toilet rolls, cartons of juice and breakfast cereals; the things we often just take for granted. Those items that were not used on our week have been given to the charity to go on and be used where other communities do not have the resources to provide for the guests. Donations of money have amounted to an amazing £1354 after all expenses have been met. This has truly been a powerful Christian witness in our area.
Another way which I consider is a way of evangelising, is by raising awareness. To that end we approached a couple of local supermarkets, Tesco at Seacroft and Whitkirk Co-op, who kindly donated breakfast cereals and non-perishable foods. Our local Wilkinson's store provided 10 hot water bottles when we had a cold snap. Dodgson's provided tea, coffee, sugar, biscuits and bottled water. Warburton's bakery donated 300+ freshly baked bread rolls that lasted all week. John Smeaton Sports Centre allowed our guests to use their shower facilities, as church halls tend to lack these amenities! Nawaz, a local Indian restaurant, provided freshly cooked Indian snacks as we said goodbye to our guests on the last evening, before we took them on to the next shelter for a week in Garforth.
So what can I do to continue to help?
The hope is that WYDAN can establish the Night Shelter NOT just for the winter months
but throughout the year. This needs more host communities and more volunteers - could you help?
Would you be willing to help at another venue where they don't have as many helpers as we had?
Money is important for its survival, to cover costs, but perhaps giving of your time is the best we can ask.
Consider the words below, I wish they were mine!
"All Christians are called to be hospitable. But it is more than serving a meal, or filling a bed, opening our door - it is to open ourselves, our hearts, to the needs of others. Hospitality is not just shelter but the quality of welcome behind it". Dorothy Day