The shelter, which provides overnight bed, board and support for 10 homeless men, opened on Monday. Seven faiths or denominations are involved, with Quakers and Sikhs providing support and meals at different religious venues. More than 200 people from different faith communities and of no faith have volunteered to support the project.
It is managed by One Roof, a Leicester organisation which focuses on homelessness, and funded by the Muslim charity Human Appeal, the Church of England’s Near Neighbours programme and the Christian charity Housing Justice, as well as donations.
“For most of the faith venues, this is the first time they’ve provided night shelter for rough sleepers,” said Salma Ravat, the project’s manager. The venues are made available from 6pm until 9am, with volunteers setting up beds, serving meals and socialising with the men. “We refer to them as ‘guests’ because we’re trying to create a warm, welcoming environment, in which people are treated with respect,” said Ravat.
The response to an appeal for volunteers was overwhelming, she said. “Not all of them are religious, but we’re encouraging them to volunteer at venues that aren’t necessarily familiar to them – Muslims in churches, or Christians in synagogues for example.
“It’s hugely important for people to have experience of working with or living alongside or making friends with people of different faiths or religions. A project like this brings everyone together in a shared desire to help, and takes away a lot of barriers. It’s really humbling to see how friendships develop, and the impact this can have on our society.”
The number of rough sleepers in Leicester had more than doubled in the past year, Ravat said, from 22 in the 2015 annual count to 46 this year. “These are just the ones we know of. It’s a rising problem,” she said.
The men who have been referred to the shelter this week have included some Britons, some eastern Europeans and one whose asylum application had been rejected. The multifaith project was “not about preaching”, said Ravat. No religious activities were offered to the guests, she said, and “there is no expectation on anyone”.
Leicester is one of the most ethnically and religiously diverse cities in the UK outside London, with significant Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Polish, Turkish Kurdish, Afghan and Somali communities. The proportion of the population identifying as Christian is estimated at just under one-third. Muslims make up 18.6% and Hindus 15.2% of the population.