As we approach the Coronation of King Charles III, we urge the authorities to work closely with homeless services to ensure that those experiencing street homelessness are not simply asked to move on, as part of a ‘clean-up’, but are instead provided with longer term support to help them to move off the streets, like we experienced during the ‘everyone -in’ campaign in the pandemic. 80% of people currently sleeping rough have complex health and social needs due to difficulties in their past, often caused through no fault of their own. Some may have resorted to alcohol and drugs in order to supress the cold, the pain and the worry. Addictions and past traumas cannot be addressed purely by the provision of accommodation. There is an urgent need for mental health and addiction support, and most importantly lots of time and patience. These are complex responses, that require specialist intervention from commissioned homeless services. Church communities can provide food, welcome and befriending support alongside these partners, and advocate for social change.
At Caritas Westminster, we support parishes to reach out and support those most in need in our communities. We encourage Catholics to look to those who are street homeless without judgement, but with love and kindness; to be present for them and to listen to them. We have previously asked ‘Should we give money to beggars’, see our response here
We also encourage Catholic parishes and schools to consider the hidden homeless, such as families and young people living in temporary accommodation; in hostels, sofa surfing and in B&Bs. News reports this week have highlighted how many children are living in overcrowded accommodation, not able to sleep properly due to sharing beds with other family members and with no space to do their homework.
Friendships formed through strong Church or School communities can provide a social safety net for people going through tough times, helping to prevent homelessness. Elizabeth Wills, the Caritas Westminster lead for homelessness in the Diocese of Westminster, has been listening to those affected as part of a project with the Cardinal Hume Centre and Justlife in conjunction with local services. She speaks to young families living in crowded accommodation, with inappropriate sleeping arrangements. She has met families with several young and older children sharing mattresses on the floor, without carpets, often in rooms with little ventilation, rising damp and mould that leads to respiratory conditions. Others live in unsafe streets, and with broken doors, windows and appliances that never get fixed, despite frequent complaints. She is helping those affected to advocate for change.
As the country comes together to celebrate the Coronation of our new monarch, so we can come together to demand that those in authority do more to ensure everyone has a decent home.