Biggest homeless shelter offers comfort and company to 400 over the holiday

BRITAIN'S BIGGEST winter shelter opened yesterday as part of a government-backed drive to offer a temporary home to thousands of homeless people over Christmas.

The shelter at Kensington Olympia exhibition centre in London, run by the charity Crisis, will provide more than 400 camp beds as well as televisions, medical care and drug advice over the next week.

The Olympia hall is part of a network of 23 shelters, day centres and outreach services that will open their doors across Britain to provide companionship to an estimated 5,000 people. The shelter will offer guests warm clothing,haircuts, massages and arts facilities as well as Christmas dinners.

Louise Casey, head of the Government's rough sleepers unit, opened the facility yesterday and repeated her view that the best option for the "hardcore" homeless was to move into hostels or permanent housing.

Ms Casey triggered controversy last month when she criticised soup runs for encouraging people to stay on the streets, but refused to back down from her strategy.

Yesterday, she was told by Crisis volunteers that one-third of the guests at the shelter were expected to be rough sleepers, one-third those who sleep on friends' floors or in hostels, and one-third made up of those with a home but unable to face Christmas alone.

"The support provided by Crisis volunteers is vital at a time of year when rough sleepers often feel isolated and lonely," Ms Casey said. "What is astonishing is that so many people expected to come to the Crisis shelter have somewhere to live, but are too lonely to stay there. That is something we hope to change with long-term support for those who are rehoused."

Shaks Gosh, chief executive of Crisis, said the charity was increasingly working with people who were housed but found it very difficult to maintain their tenancies after years on the streets. Last year, one in eight arriving at the charity's shelters reported feeling suicidal as the countdown to Christmas began. One in 20 had tried to take his or her life.

"There is a sense of community on the streets that people miss once they become housed," Mr Gosh said. "It is essential that we support people facing these difficulties, otherwise there is a very real danger that people will end up on the streets again.

"We are delighted that for the last Christmas of the 20th century, we have the most prestigious venue ever for the Crisis Open Christmas. It symbolises our determination to mainstream homeless people back into the community."

Yesterday, one guest at the shelter explained that despite having his own flat, there were days when he saw no one. "I come for food and clothing and a little bit more comfort than in my own place. I had no electricity; all I had was a sleeping bag. This is the first haircut I've had all year."

In addition to the main shelter at Olympia, three other shelters will open over Christmas in locations around London, including a women's shelter and one for alcoholics. Now in its 27th year, the charity works all year round to offer services for the single homeless.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
The guide, since withdrawn, used illustrations and text to help people understand the court process (Getty)
newsMinistry of Justice gets law 'terribly wrong' in its guide to courts
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
scienceFeed someone a big omelette, and they may give twice as much, thanks to a compound in the eggs
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links