Skip to content

Running a winter night shelter

You may decide to run a night shelter in your church to help local homeless people, either for a set time during the winter or the full period from November to end of March. The following summarises the steps you need to take.  You can also download our full guidance here.

Setting up a shelter

An umbrella charity or organisation may approach you as part of a group of local churches to see if you want to be involved and if your premises are suitable. If your church is not suitable your members may wish to volunteer at a shelter in another church.

A project coordinator takes overall charge and each church can appoint their own coordinator to liaise with the project coordinator and ensure:

  • The shelter runs smoothly and procedures are being effectively managed.

  • There are enough volunteers to run the shift with a proper hand over at the end, volunteers should be given suitable training and guidelines including a briefing at the beginning of their shifts.

  • Sufficient provisions on site for the evening meal and washing etc.

  • The venue is left clean and tidy at the end of the session.

Guidelines for volunteers operating the night shelter

  • The homeless are not automatically classed as “”vulnerable adults” so volunteers do not need to be DBS checked

  • Be punctual and suitably dressed

  • Ensure you know the layout of the venue including which parts of the venue can and cannot be used.

  • Be friendly and welcoming and treat guests with dignity and respect.

  • Everyone should only be known by first names.

  • There should be at least two volunteers in the shelter at all times and at night at least two volunteers awake. Volunteers should not be left alone with guests; this protects both the volunteer and the guests against unfounded allegations.

  • If there are male and female guests at the shelter there needs to be male and female volunteers.

Documentation required

  • Log book – managed and updated by the project coordinator when the shelter is running including details of who did/did not arrive and recording incidents including “near misses” or actual accidents however minor.

  • Emergency telephone numbers, including project coordinator, doctor, police, all-night chemist, and local priest or minister on whose church the night shelter is running.

  • Copies of important policies including Guest Agreement, Health & Safety, Violence, Alcohol/Drugs and Confidentiality

The Building

  • Volunteers and guests should know the evacuation procedures and location of fire exits, first aid kit, accident book, telephone and list of emergency numbers.

  • Areas in the church or hall not for use by guests should be secured; there should be a safe area for volunteers to leave belongings.

  • There should also be a secure area for guests to leave valuables they want to hand in, these should be logged and a volunteer responsible for giving them back in the morning.


Homeless night shelters may fall under a number of pieces of legislation

  • Planning permission - it is not clear whether planning permission is needed and some shelters have proceeded without. If you are concerned we would advise you to speak to your local authority.

  • Food Hygiene Regulations - the main legislation in this area is the Food Act 1990 and Food Hygiene (England) Regulations 2006. Further guidance is available in our Church Health & Safety guidance notes.

  • Health and Safety legislation - you will need to conduct risk assessments and have a policy in place. Further guidance is available in our Church Health & Safety Policy with Guidance Notes.

  • Charity Law - to receive charitable funds and donations a shelter needs to have charitable status. Most use the charitable status of the church which is suitable if the shelter is run under the auspices of the PCC.


There will be a small annual charge for churches operating holding night shelters, these premiums apply at renewal and remain on the policy until we are told the church is no longer a member or provider of a night shelter.

Housing Justice and the Quality Mark

We work with Housing Justice to provide a safe and organised environment for night shelters. Housing Justice was created in 2003 when CHAS (Catholic Housing Aid Society) and CNHC (Churches' National Housing Coalition) merged. Find out more on their website.

Ecclesiastical Insurance Group plc (EIG) Reg No 1718196. Ecclesiastical Insurance Office plc (EIO) Reg No 24869. Ecclesiastical Life Ltd (ELL) Reg No 243111. Ecclesiastical Financial Advisory Services Ltd (EFAS) Reg No 2046087. Ecclesiastical Underwriting Management Ltd (EUML) Reg No 2368571. E.I.O. Trustees Ltd Reg No 941199. EdenTree Investment Management Ltd (EIM) Reg No 2519319. All companies are registered in England at Beaufort House, Brunswick Road, Gloucester GL1 1JZ. EIO and ELL are authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. Firm Reference Number 113848 (EIO) and 110318 (ELL). EFAS and EIM are authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Firm Reference Number 126123 (EFAS) and 527473 (EIM). EUML is an appointed representative of EIO who is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. Firm Reference Number 402228.