A five minute walk south of busy Waterloo station is a day centre for London’s homeless.
It is tucked away behind the main road on the corner of Webber and Ufford Street. An unassuming brick building that is providing hope and refuge to hundreds of people a week.
Run by London City Mission, it is the Webber Street Day Centre.
Every morning about 50 people who had slept rough the night before walk through those doors for a hot breakfast, a shower, clean clothes and some company.
In the summer, when the winter hostels close, that number shoots up to 70 guests a day. They come from all over the globe. Kenya, North Korea, Poland, Romania, Thailand. About two out of five people are British.
Before the doors open at 9 am, there is a queue of people that snakes around the small brick building. Cold and hungry, they are needing respite from the unforgiving winter streets.
There to greet them is Roberto Beruffi.
Roberto is the Day Centre’s Mission Associate. He’s there before the doors open and leaves well after it’s closed. He describes himself as a multinational. Born to an Irish mother and an Italian father, he came back to England after an 11 year stint in the US.
He chats to people. Listens to their concerns. Prepares the food they’ll eat and distributes clothing. There is a bible study on Mondays. The local community nurse arrives on Tuesdays. Movies are played after lunch on Wednesdays. And the podiatrist usually arrives on Thursdays. There is also a mental health team that comes to assist when they can.
The days are busy and the need can often be great.
New figures released by the Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN) last October suggests about 22 people a day were sleeping on the streets of London for the first time. The data collected between July to September last year showed 3,985 people sleeping rough in London. 2,069 of those people had not been homeless before.
Whether it is an addiction, the lack of affordable housing, a sudden loss of income or domestic violence, the reasons for ending up at the Webber Street Day Centre are many and complex.
Roberto has been working at Webber Street for the past four years.
“I started on January 2017,” he confirms.
“The first year was extremely difficult. I had known it wouldn’t be easy, but there were great stresses that brought to the fore my own personal issues. I have changed a lot in the four years I’ve been here and in a way, I’ve been more a recipient of care than many of the guests.”
Roberto is still here because he believes in the mission to care for people holistically. While people have physical needs, he believes individuals are spiritual beings as well.
“We need to care for their souls and reconcile them to God. Otherwise it will be like putting a band aid on a gangrenous wound.”
Roberto wasn’t always an evangelist. It was a fortune cookie after a date that didn’t go so well that led him to God.
“An old friend will guide you through hard times,” it said.
Roberto could not think of a single old friend who could help him other than God. A few weeks later, he met a Messianic Jew in the corridors of his university who opened the book of Romans with Roberto and read it with him. And the rest, as they say, is history.
“It was two weeks before Christmas when I made the decision to follow Christ. I still remember that day.”
His decision eventually led him to the Webber Street Centre. And in a world where countries are becoming more concerned with protecting their own, where xenophobic voices are on the rise, why was Roberto working and serving so many people with no home or country destitute on London’s streets?
“As a follower of Christ, I want to pass on the love I have received. We are all made in the image of God and are of great importance in God’s heart. What they look like, smell like, do in their time, does not matter. They have intrinsic value and the love of God compels us to care for them.”
For 180 years, London City Mission has been sharing the Good News of Jesus with London’s least reached and marginalised with love and practical care. Webber Street Day Centre is only one of their many projects.