We’ve all been thinking differently about ‘home’ over the past few months, so 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).
One of the judges from our Cinnamon Project Lab competition this year 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
We’ve been thinking a lot about homelessness this year through our Cinnamon Project Lab competition.
In our work with the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Commission on Housing, Church and Community, we were struck by Justin Welby’s words, “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, government advisor on rough sleeping, who was also a judge on our Project Lab final, made the keen observation that homelessness is actually about three interconnected issues: poverty of relationships, poverty of resources, and poverty of identity
Of course, everything changed at the start of the first lockdown in March, when the government announced their ‘Everyone In’ campaign. “29,000 people were helped through the scheme with an astonishing 19,000 moving into longer term accommodation,” reports 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 we’ve heard less about is the army of supporters – many from churches and faith groups – who have provided the life-changing support required to help individuals in hotels and hostels during the pandemic.
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 and 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 Cinnamon Recommended Projects – 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.
Green Pastures – Green Pastures releases the church to end homelessness by raising the capital for the property, training the church how to support the residents, equipping the church with all the relevant paperwork templates and managing all communication with Housing Benefit. As a result, all residents are supported by the church to bring around real and lasting transformation.
Hope into Action – Hope into Action, an award-winning charity, enables churches to give the homeless a home. We believe everyone has the right to a home and churches have the power to meet the tragedy of homelessness in their community. We partner with churches enabling them to house, support and love the homeless. We find investors to purchase the houses.
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 in their lives 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.
These Recommended Projects help churches to navigate that line beautifully – enabling churches love their communities as Jesus would.
We also love the spirit of collaboration that they inspire.
As Rory Paget-Wilkes, Green Pastures Director 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!” –
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 skillset to bring when it comes to helping individuals address issues of relationship and identity.
Earlier this year we ran our Cinnamon Project Lab competition to help find other church-based initiatives responding to issues of housing and homelessness. In the long run, we hope that these projects will join out Recommended list, so others can easily replicate them.
You can re-watch the Project Lab Final by clicking here.
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 falling in 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.