21 September 2017

Helping the Homeless in London

London is one of three of the most culturally and ethnically diverse cities in the world with a dizzying combination of the extremely rich and the very poor living ‘cheek-byjowl’ in a patchwork of different communities, with 30% of Londoners having been born overseas and over 300 different languages spoken in this city of 7.5 million people. Much is discussed and written about the wealthy bankers, celebrities and property tycoons, but very little attention is given to those who have nowhere to call home, the homeless.

Homelessness figures in London dropped significantly in the late-90s and have stayed level for the past ten years, but in the past year the number of ‘verified rough-sleepers’ has increased by 8%. London City Mission has a day centre called “Webber Street” at Waterloo, in central London, where the staff team endeavour to share the love of Christ through words and deeds, caring for the most needy in a Christ-like way through a variety of different services and activities.

Many homeless people in London are in crisis: 67% have alcohol problems, 30% have mental health needs and 25% have untreated physical health problems. London City Mission’s aim is, “to share the transforming love of God in Jesus Christ – patiently, sensitively and individually – with the people of London…”

Since the causes of homelessness are varied and complicated, we avoid seeking to offer a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to the practical difficulties that they face.

Instead, we offer a safe environment and a listening ear in which we can seek to understand each individual person’s own circumstances, and then offer appropriate practical, relational and spiritual help.

Practical – Every day we serve a hot, free breakfast to 80 – 100 homeless people, many of whom are from East and Central Europe in particular. It costs us only 50p per person per meal, through bulk-buying and good budgeting! Guests are also offered a shower and free clothes, depending on their needs. We provide medical support through the local NHS Primary Healthcare Trust using a room in our building, employment advice, housing advice and drug/ alcohol support through other more specialised agencies.

Relational – Several studies have shown that homeless people can find it difficult to trust anyone because of emotional or spiritual abuse, or a severe trauma which they have experienced. Some may have given up believing that they matter to anyone, while others may struggle to trust other people, especially if they have suffered a relationship breakdown or a difficulty with the authorities at some stage in their lives. Webber Street Day Centre provides an environment where London City Mission staff can develop appropriate and supportive relationships with the guests. Establishing trust can often take over two or three years of non-intrusive friendship building. We aim to treat everyone with dignity and respect, and always offer our services on a non-discriminatory basis to all, unless we have had to withdraw access to the centre because of violent behaviour.

Experience has shown us that the greatest social need for many homeless people is for genuine, loving friendships. Therefore we spend time with the guests, listening to them, praying for them and with them, and sharing with them as opportunity allows – patiently, sensitively and individually helping them regain their self-confidence. With this concern and help, we have found that homeless people are often able to work through and overcome emotional and relational difficulties over a period of time.

Spiritual – Every day starts with Guests being offered a cup of tea or coffee followed by a short talk from the Bible. If Guests do not want to listen to the talk, they are welcome to wait outside and then come in for breakfast afterwards. Most of our Guests are interested in hearing the daily talk and choose to come in and listen to staff sharing from the Bible.

There are copies of the Bible on all the tables and other Christian literature is also made available. Bibles and other literature are provided in several different languages and Guests often ask us to give them a Bible.

We run a lunch-time Bible study in English on Thursdays, which is attended by about ten Guests each week and our new Polish Bible study has been attracting 15 – 20 Guests each week. Staff have been amazed to see Guests arrive completely sober for the Bible studies, when often they would be under the influence of alcohol. Many have made commitments to Christ and have demonstrated transformation in their lives, albeit in ways which might not be as dramatic as we might wish, but nevertheless there are very real signs of God at work.

Quotes from two of our Guests this year:

“I like Webber Street. I can cry here. I feel safe. Not like when I’m on the streets.”

“I feel like I don’t exist out there. I feel like I am a nothing. When I come here I feel like a person again. Like I exist.”

Development – Our newest project is called Doverfield Community Homes. This is a place where lives, relationships and hopes are restored. We have just completed preparing three one-bedroom flats for three of our Guests who will move into these ‘transitional homes’ to help them progress into long-term accommodation and reintegrate back into society. This project is the next step on from Webber Street, providing guests with accommodation and support. However, enabling the challenging transition from the streets into healthy living is about more than providing accommodation. Our approach is holistic, engaging with the physical, emotional and mental needs of guests. In particular, it is vital to address the loneliness and brokenness of the person. By offering friendship, a listening ear, and encouragement we seek to spur them forward. The project aims to see broken individuals back on their feet again and coping with the responsibilities of life which once overwhelmed them. The issues our Guests face don’t have quick-fix solutions so we will provide in-depth, longterm involvement in their lives. We hope to see hearts, minds and bodies healed through the love of God in practical action.

Duncan Cuthill

Director of Ministries with London City Mission