CHURCHES are getting together to offer emergency night shelter accommodation for the homeless in Oxford this winter.

During the coldest months of the year, from January until the end of March, seven city churches of all denominations will be setting up temporary beds for the growing numbers of homeless people.

St Aldate’s Church in the city centre opened the basement of its parish centre to provide beds for the homeless in February in the hope that more churches would offer accommodation in subsequent years.

The Revd Mary Gurr, Oxford’s chaplain to the homeless and also a member of the staff team at St Michael at the North Gate in Cornmarket Street, said: “We think rough sleeping on the streets of our city has risen in the past five years by about 400 per cent so the need is great – it is much more visible.

“Massive cuts in funding have meant that much of the supported accommodation in hostels has been lost.

“Welfare reform has made things more difficult for people who are on benefits, and there is also a severe lack of suitable social housing in the city.

“We are still working out the details but we are planning to provide an emergency night shelter for up to 10 people in seven different venues. We see this as a response to a real need but also an opportunity to engage with rough sleepers.

“The city’s outreach team will be making the referrals to the scheme, and will also have an opportunity to work with the guests, as will people from Crisis Skylight.”

Revd Gurr said donations would be needed to support the project and urged volunteers to come forward.

She added: “Throughout February 10 homeless people were accommodated in St Aldate’s Church parish centre in Pembroke Street.

“The details about which seven churches will be involved this winter are still being finalised.”

Last month Father Peter Groves, vicar at St Mary Magdalen Church in Magdalen Street, said the homeless have been sleeping in the churchyard.

Make a donation to CTCO Barclays, Cornmarket 20-65-18 Ac No 80706094 marked Night Shelter.