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Homelessness: Not just a home but a start

21 January 2009

Churches and Christian organisations are pioneering initiatives for homeless people, from landlord schemes to community cafés, as Sally Jarman discovers

Pryors Bank Café, Fulham

WHEN All Saints’, Fulham, acquired the lease last year of the Pryors Bank building, close to the church, the vision was that it should house the church offices and provide a community-enhancing space.

Developing a community café was the most popular suggestion for the new premises. But who should run it? The congregation did not have to look far. In neighbouring Chelsea, two ex-servicemen, Bob Barrett and Tim Wilson, were looking for premises to expand their somewhat unusual catering firm.

The remit for their venture ticked all the right boxes: a charitable business providing wholesome food for café-users, as well as a training programme in hospitality for ex-service men and women.

Both men had seen active service in the army: Mr Barrett with the Lifeguards and Mr Wilson as a chef with the Royal Logistics Corp. Both had also suffered the breakdown of their family and financial life on leaving the Army, and had ended up homeless.

After meeting at the Sir Oswald Stoll Foundation (SOSF) in Chelsea — which helps vulnerable or disabled ex-service personnel to live as independently as possible — Mr Barrett persuaded Mr Wilson to join him in a venture to serve high-quality meat sandwiches to fans outside Chelsea Football Club’s ground.

Soon the pair were also taking their trailer café, The Beef Kitchen, to Middlesex Cricket Club, and, more recently, to a black-tie dinnerfor 250 SOSF supporters at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea.

Feeding such large numbers was no problem for someone who had previously “cooked breakfast for a thousand Royal Marines on the Falkland Islands with a bellows stove”, Mr Wilson said.

Last year, they set their sights on Fulham. With help from one of the supporters of SOSF, they began discussions with All Saints’ about running the Pryors Bank Café with

Mr Barrett as project manager, Mr Wilson as head chef, and a café manager with 20 years’ experience in catering.

“The Beef Kitchen has been fantastically successful at helping former homeless veterans rebuild their lives through regaining the self-esteem and work ethic that was so much a part of their service experience. Pryors Bank Café is the next logical step in this process,” said Rick Brunwin, chief executive of the Sir Oswald Stoll Foundation.

Profits from the now thriving Pryors Bank Café benefit the SOSF. The apprenticeship provides job experience and catering-trade training to NVQ Level 2. And Mr Barrett is currently negotiating with two large companies to place apprentices in full-time employment with them at the end of the programme.

As well as attracting interest and financial support from the Govern­ment, other organisations, and indi­viduals, last year the enterprise also won the New Statesman Edge Upstarts Social Upstarts Social Enterprise of the Year award.

The entry from Pryors Bank Café not only impressed the judges: it also attracted more feedback on the contest’s website than any other.

As originators of the community vision, All Saints’ is more than happy with the use of its building. And, as Mr Barrett reflected when the project was featured by the BBC: “Servicemen are used to discipline and rules, but now and then they lose sight of themselves. Opportunities like this bring it back to them.”


Nightstop, Nottingham and Runnymede

Nightstop, Nottingham and Runnymede

UNDER the umbrella organisation Depaul Nightstop UK, homeless young people aged between 16 and 25 are benefiting from an ever growing number of schemes around the country that offer emergency accommodation and, increasingly, much more besides.

As with many of the schemes, Nottingham Nightstop has a strong Christian backing. It was launched in August 2006 by a partnership of organisations including the Christian Centre — an Assemblies of God church — and the YMCA, in response to a need for supported accommoda­tion for young people who, for what­ever reason, had become homeless.

The hope behind Nightstop is that by preventing a young person’s sleeping rough, or in unsupported or unsuitable accommodation, it reduces the likelihood of his or her entering into a downward spiral.

Naomi James-Davis of the Nottingham Nightstop management committee is upbeat about the success to date: “It has been very encouraging. A major reason why a lot of young people become homeless is breakdown in family relationships. In our role as a stop-gap — between their finding more long-term accommodation — we aim to show them the love of God when they most need it.

“At the least, we find they appreciate the support when they are feeling abandoned. And we have had some youngsters rekindle bonds at home, after having the breathing space and the chance to talk things through.”

In the two-and-a-half years since it opened, Nottingham Nightstop (which also covers surrounding boroughs) has offered more than 465 nights of support.

Accommodation is with carefully selected and trained “hosts” (many are volunteers from churches) who encompass a variety of ages and backgrounds, and provide a bed for up to three or four nights, a hot meal, clean clothes, a bath, and — most essentially — a listening ear.

Feedback from the hosts suggests that they gain as much as they give from opening their homes to young, troubled guests. “Many have reserva­tions, when they first approach us, about safety and other matters, but those who take it on rarely look back. We are very careful to safeguard the host and the young person with our training and referrals process,” Ms James-Davis says.

Feedback from the young people themselves has prompted Nottingham Nightstop to develop its service. A pilot “befriending and mentoring project” is under way, training a base of volunteers to offer further friend­ship and support.

“It comes down to walking along­side these young people, offering a constant at a time when they are vulnerable and alone; supporting them as they look for solutions rather than letting them sink further down.”

Similar sentiments underlie recent developments in the Runnymede Nightstop project, run by the Chris­tian charity East to West in Surrey. The charity’s Supported Lodgings Scheme extends Nightstop’s original provision by offering longer-term accommo­da­tion in a family home, alongside medi­a­­tion and housing-related support.

“We are targeting 16- to-1­7-year-old care-leavers, and those who are homeless or being threatened with homelessness. The scheme seeks to bridge this time of transition from home or care into supported housing, reconciliation back into the excluded home, or into independent living,” director, Andy Burns, says.

“It’s a bit like short-term fostering, giving the young person the con-stancy of living in one place, allowing them breathing space, and, crucially, support to find the most positive outcome for their situation.”

Runnymede’s Supported Lodgings Scheme will take six young people this year, 12 in the future. “Our mission takes us to work with young, marginalised people that the church doesn’t yet know. Nightstop, and now the Supported Lodgings Scheme, steps early into the difficulties that some teenagers experience, hopefully offering the buffer of trained support and friendship needed to prevent them sliding further into homeless­ness and all that goes with it.”




Aquila Way, Gateshead

Aquila Way, Gateshead

AN INNOVATIVE project in Gates­head, Tyne and Wear, is tackling the problem that homeless people have in getting back into private rented housing.

58:12 Properties is the latest initiative from the Christian charity Aquila Way, which provides supported accommodation for about 200 home­less young people and their children in the area.

Through 58:12 Properties, the charity acts as a middle-man, providing guarantees for landlords, as well as help and support to settle homeless people into a new home and integrate them into the community.

Residents attend a six-week pre-tenancy course that covers basic skills and brings them up-to-date with their rights and responsibilities.

Victoria Spencer of Aquila explains: “A home is more than just a place to live: it means security, and increases the chance of an individual finding and holding down a job and relationships.

“Yet homeless people trying to get themselves back on track often find themselves excluded from the private housing-rental sector, because they can’t produce the necessary deposit or housing history landlords require, or maybe because they have a criminal record.

“Neither can all those on the homeless register be housed through the local authority. It’s a long-term problem that we felt, with our experience and connections, we were able to help with.”

As well as providing accommoda­tion and housing-related support, Aquila is helping to regenerate a sense of community on an estate in East Gateshead with high levels of crime and unemployment, by raising funding to open an empty office building as a community centre. It was so successful it has now been taken over by the residents it helped.

The prisoner-mentoring scheme is a new one that extends the work that Aquila did with young ex-offenders on a Gateshead estate. That scheme was so successful it has been extended across the whole region, and volunteers now go into prisons to mentor prisoners nearing release, helping them with housing, finances, and so on. They will continue to help them once they are released.

“Over 90 per cent of those we work with move on positively from our sup­port into education, employment, volunteering and/or their own home,” Ms Spencer says.

The charity received recognition last year with a Centre for Social Justice Award for its work providing housing-related support for young men, more than half of whom are ex-offenders. It is also the North East Regional Partner for FaithAction, a national network funded directly by central government to raise the voice of faith and community organisations that deliver public services.

Key to the organisation’s success, Ms Spencer says, is its relationship with churches. “Aquila was formed by young Christians 25 years ago, and, as you can imagine, many contacts were already established with the local Church during this time.

“We continue to engage the churches with our work, and enjoy great support from them, not least in offering the hand of friendship to our tenants as we work to help them inte­grate into life in their communities.”

Just over a year ago, Aquila Way teamed up with Darlington-based Oak­­wood Properties to provide the accommodation for 58:12 Properties. But there has also been interest from other estate agents and landlords.

“There is increasing demand for private landlords to work with well-respected organisations to meet the need for social housing. It gives them peace of mind, and means that people who would normally have little chance of securing a tenancy can now make a positive, fresh start.

“We have been delighted with the response, which has enabled us, in just one year, to grow the project from one flat to 17 homes, providing housing to 35 people of all ages and ethnic and social backgrounds.”

Once 58:12 Properties is established in Gateshead, there are plans to e­x­pand the project across the region. “With a home, these individuals have a chance to become, once again, part of their community,” Ms Spencer says.


West London Churches Night Shelter

West London Churches Night Shelter

WHEN THE temperature in the capital dropped to -4° recently, those not fortunate enough to have a warm home to go to were thankful for projects such as the Winter Night Shelter, run by volunteers from West London Churches.

From November to April each year, about 150 volunteers and 15 paid overnight staff from more than 20 west-London churches of all denom­inations offer shelter and hospitality in their church halls from the falling temperatures.

Every night, 35 sleeping mats and bedding move to a different church involved in the initiative. When the scheme began, 11 years ago, there was bedding for just ten, but, as the senior project manager, Danny Strickland, observes, demand has increased.

The night shelter initially began when churches around the Chelsea area became aware of the number of people sleeping rough along the King’s Road. Banding together, they opened their doors to offer shelter and a hot meal for ten “guests”.

The guests begin to arrive from early evening, when the doors open, and leave by 7 a.m. the next morning, putting their name on a list if they need a bed again that night. The space is then held for them until 8 p.m., at which time it will be offered to someone else on the waiting list.

“We have seen a steady increase in demand in recent years. Possibly one of the reasons is that we are one of the only shelters still to offer a bed on a no-questions-asked basis. It’s important to us that anyone can come and we won’t turn them away. Our objective, as a Christian community, is to do what we can to relieve poverty, and to offer support to anyone in need.”

Recognising that some people need further support, the work does not stop when the last guest leaves each morning. A day-centre operates from Chelsea Methodist Church providing food, a clothing store, laundry facil­ities, and also a casework service offering support and practical help with everything from paperwork and accom­modation difficulties to health issues.

A regular “guest forum” and a recent questionnaire keep the night shelter informed about the right services to provide. The churches in West London are committed to offering their services for as long as they are needed.


Create, Leeds

Create, Leeds

UNEMPLOYMENT, financial difficulties, homelessness, unemployment — for many, it is a vicious circle that “Create”, a community interest company in Leeds, seeks to break with its provision of accommodation, skills training, work experience, and employment opportunities.

“Homelessness can happen to absolutely anyone. But most people who find themselves homeless are not feckless: they have skills and val­ue. What they need is a hand up, not a handout, and a home and em­ploy­ment are two key factors there,” says the director of Create, Gary Stott.

This social-enterprise initiative developed out of St George’s Crypt, below St George’s Church in the city, which has been rehabilitating and helping homeless people go back into society since the Depression in the 1930s.

Julian, the catering manager of Create’s first significant project, Create Food, is a former resident of the Crypt’s halfway house, Faith Lodge. The lodge, he says, helped “to put my life back together” after a failed relationship and subsequent depression, which led to him losing his job as a chef, his home, and his hope.

Create Food is now a thriving business in its own right, providing catering for everything from corporate functions (Pret A Manger hired the company to cater for one of its staff parties), to barbecues and children’s parties.

All from the waiting staff and drivers to the chefs has experienced rough sleeping, but, with the help of Create, are now motivated to rebuild their lives through skills-training and work experience that will increase their employment opportunities in the future.

Create has already expanded its projects: it now has “Create House­keeping” — a commercial cleaning service for landlords around the city; and “Create Skills” — an in-house training suite offering literacy, num­er­acy, NVQs, and other qualifications in partnership with the Joseph Priestley College.

Café Create has opened two premises in Leeds — in Holy Trinity Church and Arts Centre, and in Grade I listed Leeds Parish Church.

The organisation has won many awards, including “Enterprise in the Community” at the Biz Awards last year, and the Yorkshire Forward’s award for “Creating a Culture of Change”, highlighting a successful partnership between the private sector and community, and volun­tary and faith organisations.

Create has its roots in faith, but, as the social enterprise company is keen to stress, the faith of those it helps is not taken into acount.

When the Revd Don Robins first opened the doors of St George’s Crypt, more than 80 years ago, he believed that, if people were to thrive, they needed both a decent home and a decent job that made them feel valued. Create says: “Times have changed, but values haven’t.”



Jericho Road Project, Catford

A “FEAST” is one of the events of the week most widely looked forward to at King’s Church, Catford, a New Front­iers church in south-east London.

Every Wednesday, members of the congregation gather with homeless and disadvantaged people to share practical and spiritual nourishment. The event regularly attracts more than 60 people, and everyone is welcome. After a short gospel talk, the congregation provides a hot meal and pudding, clothing, advice, practical help, and friendship.

During the week, members of the church visit the homes of their “guests” to provide fridges, cookers, and kitchen utensils, or to help decorate.

The Jericho Road Project, set up by Simon Allen in 2001, began as a feast. Next, the project ran sessions offering advice and support. “Homelessness is not an isolated issue. There are always other concerns to address that have brought the individual to the place in which we find them — problems such as substance abuse, childhood abuse, relationship breakdowns, serious illness,” Mr Allen says.

After identifying a long-term address as another vital step to rehabilitation, the project has since opened five houses (four for men and one for women) providing low-level support accommodation for 23 people. A sixth is in the pipeline.

Referral is through chaplains or advice centres, and residents are assigned a key worker for individual ongoing support, as well as enjoying the wider fellowship of the church.

“I believe the church has a significant role to play in addressing homelessness. People need more than a roof over their heads. They need help with problems, a com­munity of people whom they can share their lives with, and — in this context — find practical and spirit­ual answers in life. This is what the church does well, and should do, alongside specific help of profes­sionals and agencies.”

Jericho Road operates with volun­teers from King’s Church, and a small team of paid staff. “It’s a good min­istry for the church,” Mr Allen says, “changing people’s perceptions of homeless and disadvantaged people, and creating opportunities for them to walk alongside those in need.”

There are plenty of opportun-ities for residents to link into the spiritual life of King’s Church: there is a special welcome made at services and on the Alpha course, and an invitation to join in holi-days.

“Some do find faith, but there is no pressure,” Mr Allen says. “The help is holistic, and open to anyone who needs it.”


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