A STUDY of the spiritual
lives of homeless people has recommended that all organisations
providing care for them should offer discussion groups on
spirituality, and that each person should be asked about his or her
The first charities offering
support to the homeless were church- or faith-based, but in the
past few decades, there has been an increasingly secular approach
to homelessness, the study says. Christian charities are often
scared of "opening up a can of worms" by talking to people about
Yet the report, Lost and
Found, written by Carwyn Gravell for the think tank Lemos
& Crane, says that homeless people welcome such discussions,
which help to validate their sense of identity.
The detailed research was
carried out with a working group made up of people from secular and
faith-based providers for homeless people in London, and included
interviews with 75 homeless people.
More than 70 per cent of
those interviewed defined themselves as religious, either
conventionally so or in a broader sense. But only five people had
ever been asked by homelessness charities or shelters about their
faith. Only a third had been to church recently - but those who had
were overwhelmingly positive about their experience.
The report recommends that
providers should have "life interviews" with each homeless person,
in which issues of faith could be touched on; and that homeless
people should be put in touch with local churches or other faith
groups in their area, as well as given access to spiritual
Homeless people told
researchers that they would welcome this approach. One said: "[I]
would like to have a conversation with staff to know more about
faith, especially when I needed it most."
Mr Gravell visited Soul
Food, a discussion group at the Connection at St Martin's, which is
run by an assistant curate at St Martin-in-the-Fields, the Revd
Richard Carter, A similar group is run by the West London Mission,
and is attended by people from a range of faith backgrounds.
All providers should offer a
similar group, the study recommends, to allow discussion about the
purpose of life, and to establish communities where people can
explore issues together.
But the report says that
there is also much that wider society can learn from homeless
people. "They know from experience that the material comfort and
security that so many of us enjoy cannot be taken for granted. . .
Many have come through this experience with their faith intact or
new-found, or with profound spiritual insights; some have learned
to live on less, on next to nothing, in as full a way as is
possible to imagine. They have found what the rest of us have
Mr Carter, in a foreword to
the report, writes about the discussion group at St Martin's: "I
come back feeling I have been closer to the meaning of real faith
than sometimes when I am in church."
The report is available free here