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Synod calls for C of E battle plan on homelessness

22 February 2019


A MOTION seeking to create a Church of England-led task force on homelessness was carried overwhelmingly by the General Synod on Thursday afternoon.

The private member’s motion from Andrew Gray (Norwich) sought to “establish a task force to scale up and co-ordinate the Church’s own efforts in tandem with those of major homeless agencies to provide better support for the homeless on both a short and long-term basis”. It was carried by 395 to one.

Introducing his motion, Mr Gray said that homelessness had risen by 163 per cent since 2010, and that there were 236,000 homeless people across the UK, living on the streets or in temporary accommodation.

He said: “It is easy to become angry with the failures of politics. But we must avoid any temptation to apportion blame.

“That is how secular politics works — it is a recipe for a repetitive, poisonous narrative. We are not an echo chamber for Westminster. We are representatives of Christ’s Kingdom, and we must lead by example.”

He spoke of the Church’s “proud history of helping the homeless”: “There is much of which we can be proud — but we can, and we must, do more.”

The task force would “work very closely with the major homeless charities in order to support and scale up their efforts”, he argued.

Earlier in his speech, he spoke of encountering the deaths of two homeless people, one in Norwich and one in London, and said that living on the street had killed them. “Because of them, this motion stands before you.”

He concluded: “In this age of political disenchantment, we must hold high the light of hope. In this age of bad news and fake news, we must be the Good News.”

Speaking in support, the Bishop of Ely, the Rt Revd Stephen Conway, said he shared his home with an elderly cat, and that, should anything would happen to him, his cat would be looked after better than anyone who was homeless. Homelessness had become a “desparing norm” in society.

The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, said that Mr Gray was to be congratulated for his fair and balanced motion. He said he wanted people to say: “Church of England, we want to go with you,” in addressing homelessness.

In a maiden speech, Stephen Hogg (Leeds) spoke of a cousin who had died at the age of 32 after being homeless for a period. “Homelessness is a serious, real and current problem, so let’s do something serious, real, and now. . . We can do something; so, for God’s sake, let’s do something”.

The Priest-in-Charge of Southborough, the Revd Rachel Wilson (Rochester), said: “It is no longer good enough to say warm words about these things, as long as someone else deals with it. . . This is too important to leave to somebody else. . . People are dying, and this needs to stop.”

In another maiden speech, Simon Friend (Exeter) had said that the Church should enter into partnership with social-housing developers and use church land for housing. He argued that the task force could be at the forefront of tackling homelessness in the UK.

There was discussion about whether to adjourn the debate until July, as suggested by the chair of the Business Committee, Canon Sue Booys (Oxford). The Bishop Conway, in a point of order, said: “We are squeezing this, as society is squeezing the issue.”

The motion was carried unamended:

That this Synod, noting:
a) the substantial levels of homelessness in the United Kingdom; and
b) initiatives to address this problem by Her Majesty’s Government, such as the Homelessness Reduction Taskforce announced in the 2017 Autumn Budget
and celebrating the good works already being undertaken by the Church of England, other Christian denominations, faith groups, charities and social enterprises, call upon the Archbishops’ Council to enable the formation of a Church of England led Homelessness Taskforce including representatives from the Houses of Bishops, Clergy and Laity to undertake:
(i) the formation of plans at national, diocesan and parish levels to utilise Church resources (whether financial, volunteers or buildings) to provide shelter and support services for the vulnerable on a nationwide basis, building upon the wide experience of government and Third Sector initiatives in this field; and
(ii) the implementation of those plans in partnership (where appropriate) with local authorities, homeless charities, voluntary organisations, faith groups and social enterprises.

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