THE Prince of Wales launched an initiative to eradicate homelessness in the UK, this week, during a tour that highlighted the front-line part played by churches.
It included a visit on Monday to a carpentry workshop hosted by St John’s, Bournemouth, in its hall and run by Faithworks, a Christian charity working to address homelessness, food poverty, and loneliness in Dorset.
On Wednesday, the chief executive of Faithworks, Alistair Doxat-Purser, said that the Prince’s visit had been “amazing”. It had already generated an offer from one business of extra wood. Prince William had tried using the lathe, and had put members of the team, including trainees, at ease.
“The Faithworks Arch team often tell me that anyone escaping homelessness longs for a sense of being safe, a place of purpose, and trusted people alongside them,” Mr Doxat-Purser, who chairs the Homelessness Partnership BCP (Bournemouth, Christchurch, and Poole) Forum, said this week. “And our carpentry workshop is just such a place — it has such energy, such community, and such hope.”
Faithworks is one of more than 40 organisations in the local Council’s Homelessness Partnership. In addition to the visible rough-sleeping in the area, there were more than 100 people in emergency accommodation, Mr Doxat-Purser said, and the large gap between the cost of housing and the salary levels in the hospitality and care sectors was partly to blame. Relationship breakdown was a key cause of homelessness, and the charity had started a project, “Let’s Talk Renting”, to try to prevent it.
For the small congregation at St John’s, the project had proved that “we can do something,” the Vicar of St John with St Michael and All Angels, Bournemouth, the Revd Sarah Yetman, said. “We do have a space that can be a real blessing.”
While St John’s was not far from “massive mansions”, St Michael’s was surrounded by houses in multiple occupation and “really poor flat accommodation”. The church had “always had a heart for caring for the homeless”, she said. “There’s plenty of need about us, and it feels awkward and wrong to just walk past on the other side.” Faithworks brought expertise to churches whose well-intentioned individual efforts might otherwise “run out of steam”, she said; and it encouraged collaboration.
The Prince’s programme, Homewards, is set to run for five years, and seeks to “demonstrate that together it is possible to end homelessness: making it rare, brief, and unrepeated”. The Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole area is one of six “flagship” locations that will be given “new space, tools, and relationships to showcase what can be achieved through a collective effort focused on preventing homelessness in their areas”.
Coalitions in each area will create a “tailored plan to prevent homelessness in their areas — based on local needs and local expertise”.
Each area will be given up to £500,000 of “flexible seed funding” to support the delivery of their plans, which are each expected to deliver an “innovative housing project that will test new ways to unlock homes at scale within the location and beyond”.
The partners that the initiative brings together include Centrepoint, the charity for young homeless people founded by the Revd Ken Leech in 1969; Shelter, founded by the Revd Bruce Kenrick; Crisis; The Big Issue; and two charities inspired by the work of St Vincent de Paul: DePaul and The Passage.
The Prince made his first launch speech in Lambeth, in south London, at the Mosaic Clubhouse, a charity that supports people with mental-health conditions. He spoke of the “deep and lasting impression” made by his first visit to a homelessness shelter at the age of 11, with his mother.
The Finnish approach had been an inspiration, he said, showing that “deep collaboration across the public, private, and third sector, backed by a long-term commitment, can put places on a path to ending homelessness.” The number of homeless people in Finland had fallen from more than 16,000 in 1989 to about 4000 in 2021: the success was attributed to a “Housing First” approach, in which people experiencing homelessness were provided with permanent housing immediately rather than temporary accommodation.
His tour included Newport, where he visited a block of prefabricated apartments in the city centre, run by the housing association Linc Cymru, and situated close to the Cathedral. On Wednesday, the Dean of Newport, the Very Revd Ian Black, welcomed the Prince’s initiative as “tremendous news” for the city, “because it will help with joining up the dots, and helping co-ordinate some very caring people here”.
The Dean highlighted the work of Eden Gate, a Christian charity providing daily support for homeless people, from food and showers to projects including literacy support, allotment work, and decorating.
Prince William also visited Sheffield, Aberdeen, and the East Belfast Mission, part of the Methodist Church in Ireland, which traces its work on community regeneration back to the soup kitchens of the early 1900s.
In an interview with The Sunday Times last month, the Prince suggested that he could “act as an umbrella” for the various organisations working on homelessness, “and go, ‘Right, this is the plan, this is the aim. We’re going to go for it together.’”
Challenged about his own extensive land ownership, he said that there were plans for affordable housing: “Absolutely. Social housing. You’ll see that when it’s ready. I’m no policy expert, but I push it where I can.”
The inquest was held last month on Malcolm Livingstone, an RAF veteran who had been a pallbearer at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales. Suffering from PTSD and alcoholism on his return from duty in Iraq, he died, aged 44, in 2021, in the grounds of St John’s, King Lynn, next to a shelter that he had approached for help. The coroner spoke of “numerous missed opportunities” by service-providers to prevent his sleeping rough.
This week, the Bishop of Chelmsford, Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, the Church of England’s lead bishop for housing, expressed support for the Prince’s leadership, which would “undoubtedly have a tangible impact; his determination to address this crisis will be welcomed by churches up and down the country who are on the front line of supporting those experiencing homelessness”.