Quaker Homeless Action
Quaker Homeless Action (QHA) is a UK charity that aims to support homeless, marginalised and excluded people and help them break the cycle of poverty and exclusion. It began in East London in the 1960s and now runs a Christmas Shelter, mobile libraries for the homeless and various befriending projects, among other work.
The primary focus of QHA’s work is single rough sleepers. The charity is run by a council of trustees, not all of whom are Quakers but who are all volunteers. The work of the charity is carried out by a team of around 100 volunteers, and in addition QHA employs one part-time executive director. Most of the funding comes from donations by Quakers.
Quaker Homeless Action was set up in the mid-1960s, by a group of London Friends who realised that, with many services in London closed, homeless people were in need of food and friendship over the Christmas period. Initially they provided a Christmas soup run, and this developed into the Quaker Open Christmas, where beds were provided as well as food and support.
This project, know known as the Quaker Christmas Shelter, is still running. Held at Blackfriars Church in East London until 2004, it moved to the Whitechapel Mission in 2005 and then the Union Chapel, Islington in 2007. Staffed by volunteers, its doors are open each year from 23rd to 30th December. In 2011, the Quaker Christmas Shelter provided nearly 1000 meals and had an average of 26 people stay overnight. 86 volunteers took part on different shifts, day, evening and overnight.
The Quaker Christmas Shelter is run in close cooperation with the Margins Project, a year-round service for the homeless and other marginalized people based at Union Chapel, and the Pilion Trust, which provides professional outreach workers at the Quaker Christmas Shelter for those with drug or alcohol addictions or mental health needs.
More recently, Quaker Homeless Action has established mobile libraries for the homeless in London and in Brighton. Homeless people are often excluded from registering at public libraries because they are of ‘no fixed abode’. QHA’s London library, established in 1999, is housed in a long-wheelbase van which has been fitted with shelves to house the books. The van’s permanent home is at Hammersmith Quaker Meeting, while a group of thirty volunteers take the library on a set of rounds on three days a week. In 2011, the Quaker Mobile Library lent more than 1000 books to homeless men and women in London.
In 2013, a second mobile library was set up in Brighton, on the south coast of England. As the streets of Brighton are very narrow, a converted van was not practicable, so the library operates out of suitcases with built in shelves.
The Quaker Mobile Libraries do not charge fees for late or unreturned books and will lend books to readers who cannot return them.
QHA also supports Affiliate Projects – locally driven projects focused on a local solutions for a homeless population. These projects can receive funding and support and advice from QHA. Past projects, which may or may not be centred round a local Quaker Meeting, include shelters, libraries and befriending projects.
In addition to these practical projects, QHA also runs the Quaker Campaign for Fair Housing. The campaign seeks to end homelessness through the provision of sufficient homes. QHA recognises that few communities have enough affordable, adequate, and appropriate homes; most have a long housing waiting list. Those on the housing list are prioritised according to need. Single rough sleepers (the group with whom QHA principally works) are given low priority, even if they suffer from mental illness or addition
The campaign urges Friends to contact MPs, councillors and housing officers, asking them to release funds to build council homes and support local housing associations, and to consider the needs of single rough sleepers.