Giving hope to the homeless

23 December 2011 by
Giving hope to the homeless

Shelter from the Storm charity founders Louie Salvoni and Sheila Scott tell Lisa Jenkins how hospitality apprenticeships are getting the homeless back on their feet

Christmas is a fabulous time for the hospitality industry, with beautifully decorated hotels and dining rooms bringing huge pleasure to guests at this time of year.

But it's also a time for reflection. For some people this year it has been particularly tough and it would have been a whole lot worse if it wasn't for Shelter from the Storm (SFTS), a charity founded by Louie Salvoni, owner of Espresso Service, and Sheila Scott, Shelter from the Storm general manager.

The project was launched in September 2008 after Salvoni was invited to help with a cold weather shelter at two churches in Islington - St James and St Johns.

While Islington is known as a highly-fashionable area, it rates as one of the most-deprived boroughs in the UK.

The guests (18 men and 18 women) are given a bed 365 days a year. Some stay for a couple of nights, or maybe three weeks in the case of Melvina Koranteng, a 20-year-old from Italy who came to the UK last September with an Italian hospitality and catering qualification wanting to work in the UK hospitality industry.

Koranteng lived with family initially but they fell out and she became homeless. SFTS helped her get back on her feet and she is now in a hostel and looking for work as a waitress. She is articulate and bright, just the sort of young lady you would be delighted to have serve you your meal or perhaps greet you at reception.

Some of the guests have been there for months, and some will probably never leave, like Patrick, a wonderful 83-year-old pastor. Other guests have more harrowing stories to tell, too graphic to explain here.

The shelter costs £120,000 a year to run plus rent, utilities, and employee liability. Through the help of local councillor Paul Convery its council tax has been capped for the duration of the lease. But it has not been an easy journey.

The concept was born in two church halls, which were followed by a large property that was lent for a short period. The latest location - an old warehouse near Kings Cross - is on a three-year lease. Trustees Salvoni and Scott, and their large team of volunteers, are hoping this is the last move for a while as change is difficult for their guests to cope with.

The daily routine in the shelter starts at 6pm and guests are asked to arrive by 7pm latest. "We all sit down together for dinner about 7.30pm, but take our puddings in front of the TV just like at home," says Salvoni.

The food portions are generous - these people are hungry - and the food is good. Big bowls of spaghetti and meat sauce served with garlic bread and fresh salad was nourishing guests on the night Caterer and Hotelkeeper visited. It is so good that a well-known food critic is expected to cook in the New Year and may have a few words to say in his column this weekend.

SFTS has a team of night-shift workers who come in at 9pm and a breakfast and cleaning team who arrive at 6.30am the next morning. Shelter volunteers include a celebrity chef, an ex-special branch officer and an ex-bank robber.

"It makes for interesting conversations on the door!" Salvoni adds.

Referrals come from the Red Cross, local councils, local police, University college hospital, out-reach teams, women's trafficking and domestic violence groups and the UK Border Agency. The rules are minimal: no drugs or drink. If any guests are found to be in possession of banned items they are asked to leave and are not allowed to return.

"We take the most vulnerable here never mind their profile," Salvoni says. "They all want a job, it's the first thing they say and one of our key aims for 2012 is to set up more apprenticeship programmes like the one we have with Pret A Manger.

"This scheme takes our guests on a three-month programme and teaches them new skills within their organisation," he says

So far, 16 people have come off the street and now have full-time employment with Pret. It's a model Salvoni is keen to replicate and he's on the look out for more organisations willing to welcome Shelter guests and help them get back to work.

Pret also donates money, and the shelter collects food from the company every day - providing guests with their packed lunches for the following day back on the streets.

The causes of the guests' homelessness are varied - political unrest, religious wars, health problems, mental illness, drug or alcohol addiction and environmental or economic disasters. However, one thing unites them: a willingness to take control of their lives.

Sadly Salvoni expects the number of guests to increase next year as economic uncertainty leads to further redundancies and relationship break-ups. But with continued funding and support Shelter from the Storm will be there to help them back to their feet and into meaningful work.

Shelter from the Storm supporters

Along with Pret, who make an enormous contribution through the apprenticeship programme, Sainsbury's is also a big supporter.

It provides food which is, of course, one of the main costs for the shelter. Gail's Bakery also provides daily fresh croissants, bread and muffins for breakfast.

Equipment donated to the shelter include a Goldstar interlock extraction fan, a coffee machine donated by Angus Mckenzie of Cafe Kimbo, a baby burco cooker, various Nesbitt kit, Lavazza, Cafeology, Nairobi Coffee Company, Bravilor and Gilberts Food Equipment pans.

The shelter is in desperate need of new laundry equipment and a new toilet and shower block.

How to help Shelter from the Storm charity

Shelter from the Storm is London's only free homeless shelter, open all year round with no financial support from the Government. It provides safety, food and warmth, which brings hope and we all need a dollop of that.

So, if you're touched by the work the project is doing and you're feeling generous this year, take a look at the SFTS website and contribute to its Christmas Appeal](

By Lisa Jenkins

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