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Relational Poverty - the Central Role of the Church

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Rebuilding positive relationships and a network of support is an essential element to a long term approach to tackling homelessness.. The church has a unique and central role to play in achieving this #makinghomelessnesshistory

We explored in our previous posting how where people lack the necessary positive and supportive relationships necessary to thrive and hit a point of significant crisis, they find themselves lonely, isolated and at risk of homelessness. Alongside the availability of sustainable, affordable and available accommodation, breaking cycles of housing poverty requires Society to deal with its main root cause which is relational poverty.

Breaking cycles of relational poverty

Charles Fraser, former head of St Mungo’s homeless charity claimed that

“social inclusion is as simple and as complicated as somewhere to live, someone to love and something to do”.

It follows that a holistic approach to making homelessness history needs to deal not only with the material issue of putting a roof over someone’s head but also the relational issues that led them to be in that situation in the first place as well as giving them a sense of purpose and accomplishment.

People return to sleep on the streets because you are taking them out of “their community” and effectively isolating them by providing them with nothing more than just accommodation. It has to be more than that. An essential component of long term solutions to homelessness is about providing community and family that are positive networks of support built around the individual. In the absence of this they will gravitate back towards their peers and those who formerly were a negative influence in their lives.

Providing a sense of community around residents requires a different approach. Relationships and bridges need to be built into the lives of the socially excluded. Those doing this are not professional workers that get added to the list of other workers like probation officers, support workers and social workers. The residents must not be made to feel like projects or a ‘tick box exercise’ for someone who is looking for a means to do a bit of good in the community. They don’t want people to judge them or be looking at trying to change or challenge their behaviour at every turn. They need:

· Friendship.

· People who will stand by them through thick and thin

· People who will still be around even after they have moved on; that they can continue to talk to and rely on down the road.

· People who are capable of hanging on in there whilst they push back and who show in doing so that they are not going anywhere.

· People who are prepared to journey through life with them.

This is where the church really comes into its own. It is available and open to welcome those on the fringes of society, to bring a sense of family by adopting those who society has socially excluded.

The essential role of the church and the trained church volunteer befrienders

We see the role of the church as being central to the work that we do. Every house we open is partnered with a local church. The church provides a team of trained volunteers who befriend, mentor and support the residents who we call the friendship and support team. The volunteers are referred to as “friends with a purpose”. This is a term that was coined by one of our residents. There is a sense of intentionality about the relationship. After all this is a project that is aimed at achieving social inclusion with residents who will move on to independent living having learnt the skills they need to maintain a tenancy in independent living. That said they are first and foremost friends with the residents. Like all relationships, it may not be easy at the start but it grows as they get to know each other, share life together and walk something of their respective journeys down the same path. These are friendships that last beyond the residents’ stay in the house and are part of starting to build a positive network of support around each individual which is key to them achieving their outcomes and dreams.

The church volunteer team brings with it a sense of community, family, acceptance and love to the residents. They do not judge them because they recognise how all are made in the image of God. They befriend, they mentor, they support. They are often more capable than others of recognising their own flaws and shortcomings and so are quicker to forgive and be patient, caring and tolerant with the residents’ shortcomings. They are sensitive to the awkwardness of moving from refugee thinking to belonging. They are sensitive to rough sleepers and ex-offenders being unable to get to grips with keeping a space clear and usable, or sharing space with others.

Our theory of change is that when people have a safe, secure home, surrounded by loving, non-judgmental relationships, they will find the strength and motivation within themselves to make positive life choices. We accept people of all faiths and no faiths, all ethnicities and sexualities without any form of discrimination. In fact many of our tenants in our refugee properties are Muslims who have fled persecution. The church is however central to how we operate because our residents are adopted into a family. The church volunteers work hard at building lasting, loving non-judgmental relationships which is a key element of making homelessness history.