MICHAEL’S, Dorset’s first night shelter, opened its doors 25 years ago.

During the next decade, volunteers provided shelter, food and support for 5,150 people over 67,954 admissions. When the shelter closed in 2002, the charity continued to provide “move on” accommodation at the award-winning Michael House.

Michael’s, opened on January 18,1993, was run by a committee of volunteers, gathered from churches and caring organisations, who had come together the previous year to find ways to help Bournemouth’s homeless.

They obtained permission to use the crypt of St Michael’s church, Poole Hill. Between 8pm and 8am, up to 18 men and five women would be given a bed and receive a hot meal, shower, clean clothes, basic first aid, support and help with finding more permanent accommodation.

Over the years, the shelter benefited from generous donations of time and money, from charitable organisations, individual well wishers and even past residents.

In May 1995, with the help of funding from Dorset Social Services, Michael’s opened a day centre above the shelter.

The manager was paid, but otherwise day and night, Michael’s was still entirely staffed by volunteers. A year later, it opened seven days a week.

Vice-chairman at the time, John Coulson, said: “The big problem for the homeless is the dreadful boredom they face, which also makes it difficult for them to overcome addiction to drink and drugs.”

Understandably, many local residents were unhappy about the presence of the shelter and complained about the behaviour of the homeless around the area.

And there were other challenges for the team. A lot of the people seeking help, were suffering from mental health issues, a problem exacerbated by the government’s Care in the Community programme.

“We refer people to St Ann’s [psychiatric hospital] and they refer people to us. It’s ridiculous,” said John Coulson.

“When somebody is really bad they take them in, but because of the shortage of beds they have to let someone else out at the other end,” he added.

“Out they come, clutching their medicine, and they are told ‘You can go home now’. When they say they have nowhere to go, they are told to try Michael’s.”

Michael’s and BCHA found accommodation for many, but without the resources for continuing support, resettlement often failed.

With a National Lottery grant, the committee bought an old Victorian hotel in Boscombe.

Michael House opened in July 1998 with 10 beds, a “half-way” house for homeless people between 16 and 25. The aim was to get them back into society as quickly as possible, before they became addicted to drink or drugs.

But there was opposition; a residents’ action group was formed. One of its members told the Echo, people were “sick to the back teeth of druggies and prostitutes loitering in the streets and [were] doing their level best to return the area to its former quiet residential use”.

Meanwhile, the council commissioned a new night shelter in St Paul’s lane, with day centre, 40 lockable rooms and facilities for those with drink and drug problems as well. BCHA were given the contract to run it.

Michael’s decided not to bid, as the task was too big. Instead, they would focus on their work at Michael House.

The shelter closed its doors on September 10, 2002. Shortly before, Michael’s held a memorial service at St Michael’s church for the 79 homeless, including people in their twenties and thirties, who’d died in Bournemouth since Michael’s shelter opened.

The hostel now has 25 beds and eight places in a “move-on” house next door. In the last 17 years, it has helped more than 700 single men and women find their way back into society.

Referrals come from churches, word of mouth, Shelter and the council. After an assessment, those accepted are assigned a key worker and given a date to move in.

Tenants are offered a steady stream of activities. They are regularly involved in community clear-ups and fill a shift on the Ringwood and Poulner Toad Patrol. The garden, tended by residents, has won multiple garden and conservation awards. Slowly, community life works to reduce fears, provide stability and increase trust. Currently, 97 per cent of tenants are in education, training, employment or voluntary work –a phenomenal result.

Although there are now paid staff, voluntary work still underpins the service, a fact recognised in July last year, with the prestigious Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.