We’ve all had to think differently about ‘home’ over the past few years. Perhaps now is the time to think differently about homelessness too.
Christians have been at the forefront of tackling homelessness for centuries. Big organisations such as Shelter and Centrepoint all have their roots in the Church.
And, of course, the Bible is very clear about our responsibility.
“What I’m interested in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes.” Isaiah 58:6-7, The Message.
At Christmas, there can be an outpouring of generosity toward rough sleepers. While it comes with heart-felt good intention – it can sometimes be misplaced.
One of the judges from our 2020 Cinnamon Project Incubator competition suggested that, “The more ‘Instagrammable’ an initiative, the less effective it’s likely to be.”
The observation cuts to an uncomfortable truth about our response to a challenging issue.
More Than Housing
In the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Commission on Housing, Church and Community Report, Justin Welby said, “If the purpose of housing was understood as building homes and communities, not merely building accommodation with bricks and mortar, the whole nature of the industry would be changed.”
It’s so true, isn’t it?
In fact, Jon Kuhrt, a government advisor on rough sleeping, makes the keen observation that homelessness is actually about three interconnected issues: poverty of relationships, poverty of resources, and poverty of identity.
Who is Responsible?
Of course, everything changed at the start of the first lockdown in March 2020. The government announced its Everyone In campaign and almost over night 29,000 people were given accommodation.
As of January 2021, 37,000 rough sleepers had been given emergency accommodation as part of the initiative. “Of those, 19,000 moved into longer-term accommodation,” confirms Jon Kuhrt.
It’s easy to look at a scheme like this and take the view that our work is done – that government has the power to solve the problem.
But that’s not true.
What Can We Do?
It’s been incredible to see the progress that has been made on the issue of homelessness during the pandemic – but it’s been achieved through extensive collaboration.
This includes an army of volunteers from churches and faith groups . The effort it takes to coordinate and sustain such activity can’t be underestimated.
Here at Cinnamon, we always want to be real about the challenges churches face when trying to support their communities and help them to develop
One way we do that is through our Recommended Projects. These are tried and tested initiatives that other churches can easily replicate in their communities.
We’re delighted to have three great projects that help churches tackle this difficult topic of homelessness.
Grace and Truth
What we really love about these initiatives is the careful line they walk between grace and truth.
They show Jesus’s unconditional love through an outpouring of generosity, but they also challenge individuals to address difficult issues so they can support themselves in the future.
Like Jesus at the healing pool in John 5, we need to be helping people to pick up their mats and walk by themselves.
As Rory Paget-Wilkes, Director of Green Pastures, says, “We recognise that we can’t just talk the talk when it comes to homelessness, God commands the church to house and care for the poor.
“We love equipping churches and organisations to take on the walk themselves and support the homeless in tangible and lasting ways. We know Housing Justice and Hope into Action do the same – let’s do this Kingdom work together!”
Working in Partnership
There was a time when local authorities would have been reticent about partnering with a faith-based organisation.
In 2018, the Government’s Ministry for Housing, Communities, and Local Government (MHCLG) appointed a Faith and Community Adviser within their Rough Sleeping Initiative team.
It shows how significant church and faith-based activism is in addressing rough sleeping and homelessness.
Beyond the practical benefits of partnership, many are recognising that churches have a particular skill set to bring when it comes to helping individuals address issues of relationship and identity.
Last year, we ran our Cinnamon Project Incubator competition to help find other church-based initiatives responding to issues of housing and homelessness.
What we’ve recognised is that we need to be looking ‘upstream.’ Churches are great at picking people out of the river – but ultimately, we want to stop them from falling in the first place.
It’s so important that we continue to ask ourselves challenging questions about how we can truly help our communities. The world will continue to change and it’s so important that we as churches innovate in response.