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Thursday, March 23, 2017
Feature: Homelessness can happen to anyone
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¬†"Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." This year's Homelessness Sunday on 30 January aims to tell the story of thousands of children and young people throughout the UK whose lives are stunted and damaged by homelessness and the need for Christians to make a positive response. David Coleman describes how the Church Army, with other church organisations, is doing just that. Shaza became one of the hundreds of women who find themselves homeless each year, and through no fault of her own was forced to lave her job and home. Through Church Army's Marylebone project, she was given a room, hope, and advice about how to rebuild her life. Since opening in 1996, the Project remains one of the few schemes dedicated to helping homeless women in London. Women come to the project from all walks of life- from a mother who had to leave an abusive employer and found herself homeless at 54, to a woman who had to leave her home town after suffering a severe sexual assault. The work of the Marylebone centre has been recognised with a cash injection of £80,000 announced by John Prescott as part of the Hostels capital programme running in the capital. This investment has also been complemented by the Portman House Trust who granted funding for 7 extra beds which will allow the project to accommodate more women- good news for a society that has been working with homeless women since 1891, but not enough to deal with the 40-50 women that have to be turned away each month. A major success of the project last year was to ensure that almost 50% of women who had contact with it positively engaged with regular educational activities, thanks to a partnership with Westminster Adult Education services- now in its fourth year. For the first time ever, the Archbishop of Wales' Christmas Appeal last month was dedicated to profiling a range of projects, working with homeless people particularly young people with no previous church affiliation. The appeal highlighted Just Housing which provides a bridge into private sector accommodation for homeless young people; Ty Bronna, Ty Carlisle & Ty Danescourt which focus on short term accommodation for homeless young people and Valley of Hope- focussed on providing transitional housing and upport for ex-offenders and those suffering form substance abuse. Commenting on Church Army's work in Wales, the Archbishop said: "God in Christ challenges us to remember those who are dependent on the love and care of others, especially the homeless, or those who for any reason find themselves at a crisis point in their lives . Church Army helps the church to reach out in new and exciting ways to homeless people, the young and the un-churched, seeking to create a sense of hope and fulfilment in their lives." David Palmer, works closely with "Actions of Christians together in Swansea" (ACTS),who co-ordinate a Christian response to the homeless in that part of Wales. David said: "Although the council has a responsibility for the homeless, the bulk of the work is undertaken by voluntary groups, the churches and agencies going out on the streets regularly to share Christian care and compassion to those in need: " I know many of those we meet on the streets as I run a daily Tea and Toast breakfast for the homeless in St Mary's Church in the city centre which regularly helps up to 20 people a day. Not all are rough sleepers- there are also those staying in hostels or staying with friends or in need of alternative accommodation and care for a variety of reasons.", comments David. ACTS goes out weekly on a soup run that takes the volunteers from locations such as multi-story car parks, the high street and shop doorways. It is increasingly difficult for those on the streets to find adequate shelter when places are boarded up, shuttered off, or policed regularly through the night to move people on. David said: "This is a ministry focussed on responding practically to the needs of those Jesus called us to help (Matthew 25:35-36); it is much more than tea and toast as each person attending receives a warm welcome and a listening ear- the offer of prayer is rarely refused. David is clear about the impact of this work: "Before a homeless person will experience any desire to improve their lot, he/she must be convinced of their own self-worth. In our regular contact with the homeless this is what we prayerfully focus on- the message that we are all precious in the sight of God and in his hands have potential to achieve much more than we could every aspire to in our own strength." Alan Park, Church Army's outreach worker in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, knows better than most how much homelessness hurts, having been homeless himself for seven years, living with travellers for some of that time. He has pioneered a creative response to the issue of homelessness in north Derbyshire- launching the Chesterfield Holy Trinity and Christchurch bus project. The double-decker bus has already hit the road as a soup kitchen and there are plans for it to be fully renovated with a kitchen, counselling, area, kids play area, toilet and shower. He said: "Government statistics don't seem to highlight the very real problem in this part of Derbyshire with rough sleepers- but our team of volunteers and church members are all too aware of the issues and we are trying to do something about it." Holy Trinity's congregation raised £3,000 to help fund Alan's vision of a mobile base for people who need help and advice about how to break out of homelessness but much more is needed. Alan comments: "Homelessness can happen with the break up of families, debt, alcohol or drugs. Nobody is exempt from being on the streets, it can happen to anyone." Edwin Bates, who convenes our Homeless Focus Group sums up Church Army's approach: "Our response is essentially practical and what we do is absolutely essential for those who care about addressing this issue through a faith based response. We aims to tackle injustice and poverty, and show care to ensure that each individual feels valued and is given the help they need to get back into permanent accommodation. We are about equipping people with the appropriate life skills to maintain independent living and come to know something of the knowledge and presence of the love of God.
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