Charity offers shelter from the big freeze to East End homeless

As the temperature plunges below zero a charity which offers meals and hot showers to the homeless has opened up its doors for overnight guests.

The Whitechapel Mission only offers overnight accommodation when temperatures plunge below zero.

It gave shelter from the cold to 15 people on Saturday night as the temperature plummeted to minus 3 degrees and 52 people last night when the temperature dropped to minus 1 in East London.

Whitechapel Mission manager Tony Miller said it was the first time in his 30 years working there that the doors had to open to guests in November.

He added: “And last Christmas was the first time we had to open in December.”

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The charity which was founded in 1876 offers Severe Weather Overnight Provision at the centre in Whitechapel Road when the temperature drops below zero, which it has been doing for the last 130 years.

Mr Miller said: “It is horrendously cold. It’s worse than normal and people are not prepared for it. I know I would not like to be out there at night.”

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So far all the sleepers turning up for accommodation from 8pm have been men, aged from about 24 to 55.

The centre can provide beds for up to 150 people a night and Mr Miller expects more people to turn up as word gets out that the doors are open overnight. A notice displayed in the window indicates the temperature outside so rough sleepers can see if the doors are likely to be open on any particular night.

Mr Miller said: “These guys are just grateful to be out of the cold and have some hot food. It’s making them warm and safe.”

He added: “There are a lot of people I know coming and some people have travelled a distance.”

The charity relies on donations to help it offer the overnight service and Mr Miller’s wish list includes toilet rolls and soap which will be used up as the mission’s hours are extended considerably during the freezing weather.

He added: “During the summer I collected about 600 sleeping bags and have already given them out.”

Donations can be handed in to the mission between 6am and 5pm daily, or contact 020 7 247 8280.

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