Ed Vaizey is in the first tranche of MPs undertaking the Inner City Challenge, he is writing a diary of his experience for ConservativeHome.
"Two weeks ago, I was playing scrabble and watching a DVD on holiday in Turkey with my wife. Last night I did the same with a group of homeless men and one woman.
I’ve now done two evenings at the shelter. It is ever so slightly surreal. I feel I’ve known the residents and the staff for ages. As Jeepers Creepers 2 came to an end, I felt I had simply gone to a friends house to watch telly. There is a real family feeling to the place. The residents and staff have a mutual respect for each other. There is familiarity, but boundaries are not crossed.
The evening starts at 7 when the residents start to arrive. They have to hand in mobile phones and drug paraphanalia. Dinner is served pretty much immediately. I’ve had long discussions on politics – even the homeless think the country’s gone to the dogs. And I’ve tried to pick up on some of the stories of the lives I’m witnessing.
Dinner is followed by scrabble, chess videos. Some residents go straight to bed. Most are asleep before the midnight curfew, four to a room.
The staff work in two shifts. They are all mainly young, in their early twenties, all are Christian but religion is not on display during the evening.
I am having a nice time. The residents are, it seems, good and interesting people. With some, the damage they have suffered is easy to see on the surface. With others, the only way to know there’s a problem is because you are sharing a meal in a nightshelter.
This is certainly opening my eyes, much more so than if I was just visiting. Its going to be hard to pass by a homeless person on the street in future without stopping to have a word."