Two First Nights

St John’s first night hosting a Shelter and homeless Harj’s first night in his new flat

It’s 11pm on Wednesday and Joy, my fellow night-shifter and I are sitting in the Hall kitchen, at the end of our first evening of the Shelter Project.

About a dozen guys are asleep on mattresses laid along the sides of the Hall. It’s nice and warm, dinner has been served (soup, pasta bake, cake) and we are hoping everyone sleeps through until breakfast, when the morning shift arrives to make bacon and eggs and serve home-made bread and croissants. Conversation over dinner ranged from the personal to the weather, jokes and anecdotes and a general atmosphere that only good food and good fellowship can create.

This very evening, amiable Harj, arrived, not to eat dinner but to brandish a shiny new key in front of the volunteers and those who up until last week had been his fellow travellers on the Shelter Project road. It was the key to his new flat. For someone who spent much of the last year sleeping rough, this was the biggest of deals, and Harj was keen to share his good fortune. Tonight he would spend his first night in his new place. Tomorrow he was to tell his daughter the good news, and to sort out electric and gas supplies.

“I have had a bad year, a very bad year,” he told me. “But now I feel things are getting better for me.” But first, he promised to come and share breakfast with us early tomorrow morning. He is most welcome.

The evening went smoothly thanks to lots of hard work by lots of people. I am very aware they came together out of a genuine spirit of fellowship to make a very real difference to the lives of the people who stayed with us tonight. If you want to volunteer, please contact Julian at We are particularly short of night-shift volunteers.

Julian Joyce