Or, how God uses even the fools
Although Graih as a charity has only been established since January 2008 the roots of our work go back many years. Our work has its roots in the work of the Stauros Foundation, based at The Alpha Centre.
Stauros are a Christian group offering love and support to those caught in addictions, often to substances. Among the many things they did on the island was the operation of a drop-in using rooms in The Alpha Centre, owned by Broadway Baptist Church. This was an opportunity to open up some small rooms for guests, almost all alcoholics, to come in, receive a hot drink and a bit of food and have someone to chat to.
Eventually Stauros's full-time worker moved off the island and a handful of people from Broadway decided to keep the drop-in open three lunchtimes a week. It continued to offer a very basic material provision and provided a warm, safe place for guests to come to during the day.
In October 2005 two young people from Broadway began to get involved at the drop-in, mainly because they had nothing else to do. Very quickly it became apparent that along with many substance abuse issues the guests who were attending the drop-in were often also homeless, sleeping on the streets, in derelict houses, car parks and public toilets. Winter was setting in, the weather was getting colder and the young people, with time to give, felt that any help would be better than none. As small as the drop-in rooms were (comprising one main lounge, a one-person kitchen, a store room, small office and toilets) they began to wonder whether they could be opened overnight to give the guests somewhere to sleep. There would be no beds but there were sofas people could lie on with blankets. After much prayer and discussion with older and wiser heads, and with much support from Broadway, the drop-in started to open overnight for five days a week.
We were open just over three months that first winter, until March 2006. We were operated fully by volunteers. We all slept on sofas or the floor. We only saw a few guests staying overnight but it gave them somewhere warm to sleep. It was a limited, temporary provision but it was a success.
The lunch time drop-in, three days a week, continued that year and when winter approached it was decided to open it up overnight again. The winter of 2006/07 blew us away. Despite never broadcasting our presence and relying on word of mouth for people to find us we were far busier than we had ever been. At times we were close to turning people away from our tiny rooms, which were regularly crowded with people on sofas and the floor.
In January 2007 it became apparent that the problem of homelessness on the Isle of Man was rather more of a serious issue than we had realised. It was ridiculous that the only place people could go to if they were on the streets was some tiny rooms and a battered sofa next to a church building. Something more permanent and something better needed to be done.
As the drop-in closed again overnight in April 2007 two people committed themselves full time to trying to develop the work and, along with a wider group of dedicated supporters, began to expand what the drop-in did. Awareness of homelessness was growing at it was raised on the political agenda. Churches were becoming more aware of what was going on and beginning to support the work. The drop-in was extended to open up seven days a week over lunch as we continued to search for a full time premises that could accommodate us. Some of the most transformational work was done as Christian households on the island opened up their doors and took guests in to live with them. The power of such sacrificial love had a profound impact both on the families practising such radical hospitality and the guests they invited into their homes.
Winter approached and in October 2007, still struggling to find any premises we could call our own, we were forced to open up our tiny rooms overnight once more. We have been open ever since. In an amazing answer to much prayer throughout the year and in an astonishing act of generosity a local property developer offered us the use of a house in central Douglas. They renovated it and in January 2008 we moved into our new home.
The lease on our house was only ever temporary and, in July 2009, we moved out. It was fantastic eighteen months and our work developed in many ways. With nowhere else to go we have returned to the small rooms in the Alpha Centre that we started in. We are happy that we are at least able to offer some basic provision to those homeless or in insecure accommodation.
As mentioned above, Graih was incorporated as a charity in January 2008. We continue to be operated almost fully by volunteers. We are run by a dedicated group of Christians and are generously supported by many people of all faiths and none in the wider community. Churches, companies and other charities support us generously. We continue to try and love and serve all who come into contact with us and we're still learning as we go.
Over the years we have fostered effective grassroots partnerships with other agencies, particularly the Vulnerable Adult Health Visitor and the Adult Service Access Team at Social Services, alongside other charities and churches. We participate in statutory boards regarding vulnerable adults and safeguarding and have begun to provide some supported housing in partnership with the Department of Infrastructure Housing. Our work continues to expand and grow and develop as we try to respond to the needs coming through our doors. In 2019 we opened a full-time emergency Night Shelter, that is open throughout the night every night to welcome people with nowhere else to go.
We thank God for how far he has brought us, for the blessings he has given us and for the privilege of the relationships he has fostered through our work. As we look to the future we pray that God will lead us forward to even better things, bringing hope and healing to all we have contact with.