Could your church help house the homeless?

16 JUN 2020
Ed Walker, Founder and Director at Hope into Action. Author of ‘A house built on love’, published by SPCK 2020.
Ed Walker
Founder and Director at Hope into Action. Author of ‘A house built on love’, published by SPCK 2020.

"I have worked in a multi-million pound housing charity and I have run homes in partnership with a small church. Trust me. The small church does a better job. Why? Because it provided relationships. Not just professionals. It provided a home, rather than a ‘bed’ or a ‘room’ or a ‘house.’ A church can turn a house into a home through its love, nurture and relationships."

Ed Walker is the Director and Founder of Hope into Action - an award winning charity which enables churches to house the homeless. In this blog, he outlines why churches should be at the heart of tackling homelessness and how they can listen and respond to the needs of rough sleepers.

16 June 2020
There are very few silver linings to the coronavirus. Perhaps one, however, has been the remarkable response to the homeless. In the space of 48 hours, virtually all rough sleepers were offered a place in a hotel. 
 
Government officials estimate that 15000 are now sleeping in hotels or temporary accommodation – that’s 90% of the rough sleeping population ‘off the streets’. 
There are some real learnings in this situation:
 
• For years rough sleepers and homeless have been telling us: “We don’t want to go to hostels as they are full of drugs.” We (the sector) have replied: “You’re hard to engage”. Now, when we offer them a space with dignity and safety, we discover they are not so ‘hard to engage’ after all, with many having responded to us reaching out and worked with us to address support need. 
 
Perhaps the issue was our ability to listen. We held our power and superiority too tightly. The question is: will that change?
 
The Government has set up a taskforce, headed by Dame Louise Casey. They are trying to listen. Messages coming out of the unit are:
 
• Night shelters are not safe with this virus. Night shelters are not an indicator of a healthy, functioning society and success would be a society without night shelters. 
• Homes will always be needed and are a more dignified model of support. 
 
To my mind, this puts a focus on us, the churches, to play an even greater role in tackling this very real social issue. Will we have the humility to listen both to the homeless and/or to the recommendations of Government?
 
At Hope into Action, we believe passionately that the homeless have a right to a home. We believe churches are well placed to provide it. We would love to see churches respond to this changing situation and provide a much richer landscape for the homeless. 
 
We would love to see a home in every community, run and supported by the local church, and we can help.
 
We’ve been going for 10 years and, as I write, we are running 75 homes, each in partnership with a church. We’ve been blessed that so many have helped us along the way, including Allchurches Trust, who have been a big supporter of our work and our vision.
 
We would love to partner with your church. Why? The reasons are both theological and sociological:
 
a) When the disciples saw the crowds, they said to Jesus: ‘send them away to the towns and villages’. Jesus replied: ‘No, you give them something to eat.’ He was discipling the early church to take responsibility for the poor in front of them. He didn’t want the church to contract it out to the ‘towns and villages’. And today, he would love to see us take responsibility for the homeless rather than leave it just to the charities and councils. His penultimate command to John was to care for a vulnerable, homeless lady. So the first thing the church did was give someone a home. This continued in Acts 2 and 4. 
 
b) A sociological reason:
a. If someone is homeless, they have nowhere to go because they have no-one to go to. Their physical poverty is a function of their relational poverty. The church can provide a relational richness that addresses the root cause of homeless. I have worked in a multi-million pound housing charity and I have run homes in partnership with a small church. Trust me. The small church does a better job. Why? Because it provided relationships. Not just professionals. It provided a home, rather than a ‘bed’ or a ‘room’ or a ‘house.’ A church can turn a house into a home through its love, nurture and relationships. 
 
So we would urge you and your church to contact us and we can tell you how you can house the homeless. In fact we have a webinar on that very subject on July 1st, 2020, at 3pm. We would love to see you there. Get in touch if you are interested in partnering with us!
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