A matter of life and death: an open letter to Southend Council about rough sleeping during extreme weather


An open letter was recently written to the Southend-on-Sea Borough Council. The letter includes over 70 signatories, 15 from rough sleepers, over 30 from local faith leaders, and 25 from those who work with the homeless community in Southend. It highlights the risks of the most vulnerable sleeping on the streets during extreme cold weather.

To:       Rob Tinlin (Chief Executive of Southend-on-Sea Borough Council)
John Lamb (Leader of Southend-on-Sea Borough Council)

We appreciate Southend-on-Sea Borough Council’s efforts to encourage appropriate accommodation during the cold months for rough sleepers in Southend-on-Sea. The reality is there are many rough sleepers not able to access accommodation or winter night shelters and consequently sleep on the streets each night. Periodically, these people sleeping rough are under the age of eighteen. As you will be aware, for minors, there is a legal obligation to provide accommodation for those who are without shelter.

We applaud the work of the many charities and volunteers in Southend-on-Sea working tirelessly to provide shelter for the most vulnerable. This includes the valuable provision of the church’s winter night shelters run in partnership with HARP and Southend Borough Council. However, due to the firmer criteria regarding access to the night shelters there are many rough sleepers who cannot access these shelters. We appreciate firmer criteria are in place for safeguarding and health and safety reasons. Consequently, there may be more rough sleepers on the streets at night than those who are in the shelters.

Other protocols are therefore needed. The present severe weather emergency protocol is insufficient to ensure that people don’t die. The freezing temperatures put the lives of the most vulnerable at risk. With many people dying across Europe due to the cold, we as a town have an ethical responsibility to act with compassion and practically help those most in need. This is a situation of life and death.

There is a humanitarian obligation on local authorities to do everything possible to prevent deaths on the streets caused by winter weather. Our aim in writing this letter is to ensure: 1) that no one dies on the streets due to severe weather, and; 2) minors have access to accommodation at all times. We, the undersigned, have an interest in helping Southend’s rough sleeper population and would want to support initiatives to reduce homelessness.

Please advise, therefore, what measures you will take to develop more robust severe weather emergency protocols. Secondly, please confirm that you will provide emergency accommodation for minors if no other accommodation is reasonably available to them, as required by law.

Yours sincerely,

1. Rough Sleeping Community (both presently and previously rough sleeping)

Mr J Martin

Mr Michael Foster

Mr Darius Rackevicius

Mr Diack

Mr J Rayment

Mr Frank Forggerty

Ms Julie Myall

Mr Vidas

Mr Alan Gammer

Mr Judy Clark

Mr Simon Weddell

Mr Kurt Pugley

J.M Norman

Mr N.F Farrelly

Ms. N M Thorpe

2. Winter Night Shelter Workers and Volunteers

Mr John Simmons
Co-Ordinator of the Southend Churches Winter Night Shelters Chair of the Management Group of the Southend Street Pastors

Mr Del Thomas
Night shelter manager, Street Spirit

Mr David Eastwick
Night shelter deputy manager

Ms. Julie McEvoy
Night shelter deputy manager, 57 West

Ms Liz Wiles
Night shelter manager, Westcliff Free Church

Mr Peter Courtenay
Night shelter deputy manager, Ferndale Baptist Church

Mr Peter Bentley

Ms. Gillian Smith

Ms. Shelley Scott

Ms Jeanette Pool

Mr Robin Knight

Mr Matt Belcher

Ms. Shelley Honeyball

Ms. Aimee Belcher

Ms. Lisa Butcher

Mr. Mark Sheppherd

Ms. Jacqueline Hughes

Ms. Julie McKenzie

Ms. Judy Clark

Ms Jill Dillow

Mr Julian Ware-Lane

3. Community Faith Leaders

Revd Dr Dan Pratt
57 West, Southend

Revd Nick Lear
Regional Minister, Eastern Baptist Association

Mark Churchward
Southend Christian Fellowship and on behalf of its Leadership Team
Co-ordinator of Love Southend

Revd Stuart Woodward
Friars Baptist Church, Shoeburyness

Revd David Mayne
Shoeburyness & Thorpe Bay Baptist Church

Revd Hannah Bucke
Town Centre Minister, Southend and Leigh Methodist Circuit

Revd Jon Stannard
West Leigh Baptist Church

Revd Juliet Kilpin,
Avenue Baptist Church, Southend

Revd Jim Kilpin
Avenue Baptist Church, Southend

Rev Melanie Smith,
Crowstone St George’s and Westcliff United Reformed Church

Rev Mark Meatcher,
United Reformed Church minister

Revd Andrew Picton
Avenue Baptist Church

Revd Peter Dominey
Church from Scratch, Southend

Revd Ivan King
Church from Scratch, Southend

Revd Norman Hooks
United Methodist Church, Southend

Revd Emma Nash,
Leigh Road Baptist Church, Leigh-on-Sea

Revd Steve Tinning
Leigh Road Baptist Church, Leigh-on-Sea

Revd Dan Gates
Clarence Road Baptist Church, Southend

Captain Tracey Bale
Salvation Army, Southend Citadel

Major Andrew Bale
Salvation Army, Southend Citadel

Revd Tom Vernon
Earls Hall Baptist Church, Southend

Revd Scott Williamson
Rayleigh Baptist Church, Rayleigh

Revd Daniel Hatfield
Rayleigh Baptist Church, Rayleigh

Revd John Western
Westcliff Baptist Church, Westcliff-on-Sea

Revd Andy Goodliff
Belle Vue Baptist Church, Southchurch

Mr Bill Hoggard
Leaders, Southend Evangelical Church

Mr Nola Hoggard
Leaders, Southend Evangelical Church

Mr Andy Vincett,
Senior pastor, Southend Vineyard church

Mrs Samantha Vincett,
Senior pastor, Southend Vineyard church

Revd Colin S Baldwin
Saint Stephen’s, St. Peter’s and The Bridgwater Drive Church

Revd David Pierce
Saint Stephen’s, St. Peter’s and The Bridgwater Drive Church

4. Community Leaders and Participants

Mr Rob Carvosso,
The Storehouse manager, Southend Vineyard church

Mr Kevin McEvoy
Senior paramedic acting supervisor east of England ambulance service

Frank Edmonds
Serving the Homeless

Pat Short
Serving the Homeless

Steve Dalley
Youth and Community Worker, Southend Christian Fellowship.

Jo Bates
Chair Homeless Hub

Stanford Biti

David Yallop
Street Pastor

John Barber
Chair Southend Homeless Action Network

A Gritty Advent Story


As we wait for the celebration of the nativity of Jesus, I’m reminded that Christmas can be a difficult time of year for many. We’ve found this to be true in the newly planted Baptist church, 57 West in Southend-on-Sea. The church emerged from a context of rough sleepers and low-income households, for whom a fairy-tale Christmas can accentuate feelings of loneliness and the unjust consequences of poverty.

‘No room at the Inn’, Mary and Joseph were told. The nativity story resonates with our present day situation. It could have been the homeless man being moved on: ‘not welcome here’. It could have been a family from Syria, fleeing the war and seeking refuge but hearing ‘no-room here’. All seeking safety, welcome and refuge.

So what can a nativity story of singing angels and visiting wise men speak into a context such as 57 West? If the nativity is reduced to a feel-good fairy tale, it’s detached from the harsh reality often experienced within real life. A fairy tale reduces God to a fairy god mother. This couldn’t be further from the truth. We must look at the nativity again, not forgetting or glossing over the parts that make us feel uncomfortable. The gritty parts: the birth in a dirty stable, King Herod killing thousands of children, Mary, Joseph and Jesus fleeing for their lives, becoming refugees in Egypt.

Seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus, Isaiah prophesies: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. Immanuel meaning ‘God with us’. Indeed, God so loved the world that sent his Son to earth, exchanging the glory of heaven for the life of a refugee, as a homeless man, who had no place to rest his head.

It is this reading of the nativity story that gives us hope at 57 West. That ‘God with us’ knows what it’s like to seek welcome, refuge and safety. Jesus experienced the harshness of life. He escaped mass-murder, fleeing to a foreign land, living as a refugee. Perhaps it was these experiences that influenced his later teachings: ‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me’.

The Nativity is a reminder that God breaks into our chaotic world. The birth of Christ heralds in a new way of life, a new kingdom. The Bible prophesies Jesus’ birth:’For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders’. Where justice and righteousness will be established. Where oppression, pain and poverty will be no more, or as Jesus states, he was sent: ‘to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, to comfort all who mourn; the oil of gladness instead of mourning’.

As we prepare at 57 West to celebrate the birth of Jesus, we remember that God is with us, in our sufferings, in our homelessness. God is with us with no food on the table; as we grieve for lost loved ones. God is with us as we welcome refugee families fleeing for their lives, like Mary and Joseph. God is with us as we search for welcome, refuge and safety. It is Immanuel – God with us, who gives us hope this Christmas.

A response to the recent stabbings of two people sleeping rough in Southend-on-Sea

‘The Police have cordoned off part of town’ the cabbie informed me. ‘Another homeless person has been stabbed’.  My heart sunk. Was it someone I knew? Was it one of 57 West’s participants? Was it one of my friends? ‘They were stabbed four or five times. No-one is sure if they survived’ the cabbie added. ‘Not again’ were the only words I could muster. I was wondering if it was one of my friends? It had happened only 100 meters from where I minister at 57 West, the Baptist church and community café that works primarily with rough sleepers in Southend-on-Sea.

Four days ago another person sleeping rough had been attacked in a park. The Southend Echo reported ‘A homeless man was attacked and stabbed by a gang of nine, including three women, as he tried to sleep on a park bench. The vulnerable 27 year-old was targeted for no apparent reason while he was dozing in Southchurch park’. The report continued, ‘He suffered multiple wounds to his upper legs, back, buttocks and face, but still managed to stagger to a phone box… to call for help’.

As I attempted to process the horrible news that yet another person who slept on the streets had been targeted. I tried to process what I was feeling…

I was grieving for these lives that had been attacked. Sad for the person who was recovering from the attack four days ago. Sad for the person attacked last night. In shock that a group of people had tried to take what was most valuable from two vulnerable people – their lives.  Sad for those who loved them – did they have family they were in contact with? And what would the tight-knit rough sleeping community in Southend feeling? Grief. Anger. Fear

I also felt anger towards the perpetrators who carried out these attacks. What would bring people to the point where they feel the need to attack vulnerable people in an unprovoked attack? Did they do it for the thrill, for power, or others corrupt reasons? What broken lives had they led to bring them to the point of violence?

Anger towards our broken society and humanity. Anger towards the many factors that are a cause of people sleeping on the streets. Abuse. Broken homes. Inability to access to education and health services. Mental health challenges. Benefit sanctions. Cuts in funding towards support services thereby reducing support.  Michael Manning who co-ordinates the homeless charity Graih, writes:

‘Homelessness is not one thing, but a symptom of a whole cancerous mass of causes gnawing away at the fabric of our society and humanity. Homelessness points to communities isolated and torn apart, unable to hold together the fragile bonds that knit us to each other, unable to cope with the distress caused by poverty, mental ill health, trauma and breakdown’.

Two attacks on two rough sleepers within four days tears our community apart. The victims were someone’s sons, brothers, fathers. What if this had been our son, brother or father who had been attacked. This hatred expressed through violence towards the vulnerable shakes us to the core.  The anger, grief and pain that we experience should not be pushed to the side. I am angry. Angry at the state of society. Angry at the institutions and powers-that-be, that contribute towards the most vulnerable being expelled from their homes. Grieved for those who have ended up on the street due to mental-health problems or due to the abuse they have suffered. I am angry that society, who should protect the most vulnerable is not doing enough. I also feel shame and anger towards myself – that I am not doing enough.

But where does that leave me? Is it enough to be angry. To only get angry at society results in frustration and dis-empowerment. To only be angry at the perpetrators of these crimes will only make me bitter. I find strength through the wisdom of the Judea-Christian tradition. When I look at the life of another homeless man, Jesus, he was also angry. He was angry towards those who oppressed the poor. He was livid towards those who exploited the weak. He stood up for the marginalised; for those who could not defend themselves. To follow Jesus’ example means to stand against injustice. To fight the powers-that-be towards greater equality for the poor. To live alongside the most vulnerable, confused and ill. To welcome rough sleepers into our lives, giving them shelter, protection and a place at our tables, in our homes.

This will be costly. Following Jesus is always costly. Manning writes, ‘Jesus points to something better than a tired model of the rich helping the poor. He points to a radical equality and sharing of life. He points the way to a mode of living where communion overcomes suspicion and strangers are blessings rather than threats’.

I thank God that there are so many charities and people in Southend helping the homeless, often at their own expense. There are some remarkable people out there. But there are also many people and organisation who could help, but don’t. Frankly, this is not good enough. We are responding to the symptoms of a sick society not the causes. There is a need for the government to take responsibility and admit their policies are making the vulnerable homeless. We must act and put pressure on our local council to take action, even if it is costly. Cheap love and cheap compassion never solved anything. The many buildings vacant in the town could be used to give safe alternatives to life on the street. This could save lives. This should save lives.

A town is in only as great as she provides for her poor and protects her vulnerable. We can do so much better than we are doing Southend! We must love greatly and act accordingly.