This is the second in a series of three blogs addressing the homelessness crisis and the changing response of churches to homelessness during coronavirus. You can read the first blog, on the contexts of changing need and changing policy, here. Explore further resources, including a recording of the webinar, here.
On the afternoon of 24th November, the Joint Public Issues Team held a webinar in collaboration with Housing Justice. This webinar addressed the changing landscape of faced by people experiencing homelessness this winter, and explored approaches to outreach which safely address those needs.
Our three panellists were Jacob Quagliozzi, Director of England for Housing Justice, Jon Kuhrt of the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government, and Tony Miller, the director of Whitechapel Mission.
This blog summarises the main takeaways from that webinar, and picks out some of the key themes which we saw arising again and again, including changes in need, safety provision, and a shift away from intervention and towards prevention and advocacy work.
Christians have long been involved in homelessness outreach, but the coronavirus pandemic has changed how that will look this Christmas. Everyone In, the UK Government’s scheme to house rough sleepers during the first lockdown, showed that with the right political will, steps could be taken to drastically reduce homelessness almost immediately.
Suspension of evictions and some rough sleepers moving into more permanent housing have been some welcome good news, but it’s certainly not the whole picture. Many housing situations have become more precarious, and the Whitechapel Mission noted that there was no major drop-off in need and numbers at the start of the lockdown, despite Everyone In.
Responding to a shift in need
A few themes were prevalent in the panellists’ discussions of homeless outreach. One of these was the shift in need and demographic which is being seen on the ground by people working among people experiencing homelessness. Whitechapel Mission have noted a marked uptake in people with complex needs accessing their services, including mental health problems, and a demographic shift towards younger people, especially women. Tony, the Mission’s director, stressed the importance of matching our provision to the changing need, rather than thinking, ‘how can we continue with what we’ve always done?’
“Constantly we had to just keep asking questions: what are the needs? What do you require from us? And we will see if in a safe environment, and a safe manner, we can deliver any of the needs.”
Everyone In, he reported, just hadn’t worked for everyone: some people seemed to have been excluded, couldn’t stay in the accommodation for long because of their particular needs, or had just been missed.
Despite this, Jon from MHCLG was positive about the collaborative nature of Everyone In. He celebrated the increasing occurrence of joint work between agencies and organisations, especially encouraging collaborative approach between churches and local authority on this issue, though still highlighting this doesn’t mean a ‘cosy’ approach.
“There’s a real need for robust conversations and advocacy, and challenge. And that’s something Christians, at their best, can do really well.”
There is more to do, and he sees churches having a significant role in next steps around homeless outreach.
Opportunity to move away from intervention based responses
Jon shared this diagram which outlines different kinds of response, and commented that the services suspended during coronavirus were mostly ‘intervention’ based work. For example, Winter Night Shelters will have a major drop-off in feasibility this winter. We can use this change in landscape as an opportunity to move towards prevention – encouraging churches to think about befriending and community services which might prevent homelessness in the first place.
Jacob from Housing Justice concurred with the potential to move away from night shelters this winter. He made the case for advocacy work: an important part of homelessness outreach which, again, could prevent homelessness before it becomes a lived reality. This could include promoting more affordable housing, or supporting calls for a more robust system of welfare provision. 2020 has been a tough year, but there will also be huge economic challenges in 2021, so the switch to this kind of advocacy work really makes sense.
A welcome end to night shelters?
There was a timely reminder from Tony that it’s important not to confuse a reduction in rough sleeping with the end of homelessness, and that this and future governments make space to look at prevention work to make sure we stop homelessness before it happens.
Our panellists highlighted that many people involved in homelessness outreach are ambivalent about the existence of night shelters and foodbanks. Ideally, we wouldn’t have to do homeless outreach in the church, because the safety net provided by government and organisations working locally would be strong enough to prevent rough sleeping and other kinds of homelessness in the first place. The panellists at the webinar seemed to all agree that this moment presents an opportunity to pivot towards a preventative, policy-focused approach, which places advocacy and community at its heart.
As Jon put it during the question and answer time, ‘homelessness is a lot more than rooflessness, and houselessness. Homes are places of relationships, and identity, as well as being a resource – and this is where the church can be significant.’
We thank you that churches are able to provide community and hope for rough sleepers,
and we pray that we would be able to continue to provide a spiritual home for many.
As winter approaches, we recognise the challenges that people experiencing homelessness face,
and we pray that these needs will be met both physically and spiritually.
We thank you for those who work tirelessly to end homelessness,
and we pray that from this difficult winter, you might bring forward hope.