St Mary’s Church has, for many years, supported those who work with the homeless. With the rapid rise in rough sleeping and their more visible presence in our community it’s time for us to take a more cohesive approach. Last week, our Parochial Church Council adopted a Homeless Charter to strengthen and enrich our response to those who are homeless whilst also addressing the needs of the whole community. Read on to find out more.
They were on my doorstep for an hour before I saw them on the CCTV monitor, settled in, head against the front door, feet against the school gate which only hours before the children had used to come to and from Mass. Trousers around the knee trying to find a vein.
She walked into Sunday Mass, sung when she shouldn’t have, watched others to know when to stand and sit, enjoyed the coffee and cake afterwards, the hospitality and welcome. She settled in well, a resident of the Salvation Army hostel next door.
The Sunday before, another homeless woman, much younger, took up residence for twenty minutes and more in the toilet in the space where children were just gathering for their Liturgy of the Word. It took a while to talk her out, the churchwarden chatting with her in the corridor for half of the Mass.
Bute Street is well travelled by many who are homeless, back and fore into Christina Street, or riddling their way through the maze of streets, across to the playing fields next to the Paddle Steamer Café, some with sleeping bag hoisted over their shoulder, moving fast, moving quickly, talking openly to others about “who’s down there” doing deals, oblivious or not caring about who overhears them. One asks a child for money.
Some crouch in bushes or a quiet corner of a field, or on the under pass between Bute Street and the anodyne Lloyd George Avenue, or slip into the car park at St Mary’s, or behind the changing rooms of the football club, or shelter in the art work formed from the Industrial docks.
The rise in rough sleeping and homelessness in Cardiff is created by many complex factors but knowing that each individual has their own story to tell with their own issues and challenges in life, how can we, as a community of faith, respond to them and to the needs of the wider community?
There are, for example, mixed messages about whether one should give money or food to individuals who beg, and each of us will have different opinions about what we should do. For some residents, the last three years has felt like an onslaught as they witness drug deals and watch people jacking up close to their homes and on the paths to school, needles scattered here and there. It has become a common feature which can cause frustration and fear and anger too. How does one hold together a compassion for those who are homeless with a concern for children and residents and an understanding for those who are caught up in the dirty business of drug dealing?
We recognise that each of them, in so many different ways, are vulnerable and victimised. All are affected, and affect each other. Being at the heart of the community with a heart for the community, we are concerned for all, regardless of who they are and are mindful of all the presenting concerns, and want to be able to respond in a compassionate and cohesive way which is practical and realistic. Recently the Parochial Church Council agreed to trial the adoption of a Homeless Charter which we will launch officially at our Mass on Homelessness Sunday on October 13th.
HOMELESS FRIENDLY CHARTER FOR CHURCHES
Sometimes, churches and individuals may be uncertain about the best way to help someone who is homeless and who presents themselves with particular needs. This invitation for churches to adopt a Homeless Friendly Charter will enable us to offer an informed and consistent response across the city, and allow our resources to be used more effectively for the good of the individuals involved.
The Pastoral and Leadership Team and other significant individuals of each church (as appropriate to the tradition and life of the church) will be expected to keep informed of issues affecting homeless people in Cardiff and the many services available to them. We will enable this by sharing essential information and offering ‘Discovery sessions’ and up to date and seasonal information.
We hope this Charter will counter the negative and misleading narratives which are sometimes told about services which work with the homeless, and enable us to be an advocate for the homeless to the wider public, as we represent the story they have to tell.
It will also be a means through which we can put our faith into action, and to express our concern for the homeless in a tangible and effective way, recognising that many churches already do so much either through formal projects and partnerships or the charitable actions of individual members.
By exercising a common approach, the Charter aims to strengthen and enrich our responsibility towards one another – those that exist between the church congregation, homeless individuals, homeless services and the wider community.
We hope this charter will also, in time, grow outwards from our churches to be embraced by others so that whole communities can become Homeless Friendly Communities which are informed and welcoming and will respond in a way that helps to alleviate homelessness, and support individuals and those who work with them.
Perhaps those who adopt the Homeless Friendly Charter will be able to display a sign indicating that they are a Homeless Friendly Church.
We welcome people who are homeless and will treat you with dignity and respect. We offer friendship and accept you as you are. We will talk with you and listen to you, and will try to understand your situation. You are welcome to join us for worship but all people regardless of religion, race, gender, sexuality or disability are welcome here. (We may serve as host to external organisations. Please ask about the accessibility of these).
We will guide you to services which can help you with your specific needs. If necessary and appropriate, we will liaise with them for you. Our pastoral leaders and other individuals in our congregation commit to having an up to date knowledge of Homeless Services across our city and issues which may affect you so that you will receive a consistent, fair and honest response. However, we recognise there are limitations to the help we can give. Our community consists of all kinds of people some of whom have their own vulnerabilities but we seek to equip our whole congregation so that they will be understanding and supportive.
We aim to offer a safe environment for all. All staff and members of our community of faith and all who visit and use our church premises (including those who are homeless) can expect to be treated with respect and to be safe from harm so that we can offer a welcoming and friendly environment, free from violence, aggression, bullying and fear. We will report aggression, violence, anti-social and criminal behaviour and damage to our property to the police. Drugs are not to be used or dealt on our premises, neither is begging. Each church works within its own Safeguarding Policies for children and vulnerable adults.
We will support you financially through donations to homeless charities and other projects in our city. We are unable to give you money or pay for services directly. Money will only ever be given (if available and appropriate to a particular church and at their discretion) directly to individuals in exceptional circumstances and after consulting and working with relevant agencies. We value and will promote the work of those charities and organisations.
We have a concern for your physical, spiritual and emotional needs. Each church has different resources available to them in terms of being able to provide food. However, we recognise that some external projects which offer food also provide parallel services which can help you even further. We can guide you to these services and to the abundance of free food available across Cardiff but we will always attempt to help you at your point of need.
We are unable to provide accommodation (except when this is made available by churches where formal projects exist). On occasions when people are rough sleeping on our premises, we will assess the risk to both you and others, and explore with you the possibilities available by liaising with various services and authorities.
NOTE: This Charter acknowledges that there are many projects which specific church communities may already be offering to the homeless community and the many ways in which they presently support homeless services, and does not seek to conflict with them.