Five practical things you can do to help tackle homelessness


As the temperatures have dropped across the UK and the US over the last few weeks, minds have turned to those who are spending their nights on the streets. So, there's no better time for churches to celebrate Homeless Sunday. For the past 20 years, this day has been bringing together churches for prayer, study and action on homelessness.

As churches, we already do a great amount of work in this area – but what can you do to get involved in reducing the problem? For a start, have a look at the resources being offered by Homeless Sunday.

If you're in the UK and see someone sleeping rough – especially in the bitter cold – you're encouraged to contact Streetlink. This is the best thing to do to ensure they can receive help quickly.

However, tackling homelessness is about far more than simply dealing with emergency cases. Ahead of Homeless Sunday, we look at five other ways in which you and your church can make an impact and help those who find themselves without a secure roof over their heads.

1. Listen

One of the most simple things we can do is to listen. Having a chat with someone who's experienced homelessness can open our minds to the issues. Having to negotiate a technocratic and confusing housing and benefits system can leave people feeling unheard. By finding out people's stories we offer them a chance to be fully who they are, rather than merely a statistic.

Listening can also present a way to discover practical issues we can help with. For example, have you considered how a woman who's living on the streets copes without access to sanitary products? How about the battles with slum landlords faced by many of those in temporary or unsecure accommodation?

2. Donate

There are a number of great Christian organisations as well as several secular NGOs who focus on the issues. Housing Justice, Green Pastures, West London Mission, The Salvation Army, The Passage and others do incredible work from a Christian perspective.

Other charities have a Christian basis, such as Centrepoint and Shelter. Crisis, St Mungos, Hestia and others also all work on the issue and are deserving of support. Donating money isn't a panacea – but it helps these organisations provide immediate care, more long-term help and advocacy.

3. Campaign

There are periodic attempts to criminalise the feeding of homeless people which need to be fought off. If there's an attempt to do this near you, then churches can provide the voice of moral authority which helps to swing the argument.

Campaigning can be much wider too. We need to campaign around the issues that see people fall into homelessness in the first place. For example, ensuring better provision of drug and alcohol treatment, better access to mental health services and helping to tackle family breakdown are all ways in which campaigning can make a concrete difference in preventing homelessness. Campaigning for a Living Wage is another way to ensure poverty doesn't drive people into homelessness.

The housing crisis which is reaching acute proportions in London and now affecting other places around the UK is another area in which pressure can be brought to bear. You can use this simple guide to engaging with the housing crisis.

4. Build

Churches often own more land than they are using. Although this land in itself isn't sufficient to solve the housing crisis, churches could set a great example to both the state sector and the market by using land for affordable housing.

There are already examples of this happening – and working. Rather than simply trying to seek the highest price for land, we can use church-owned property to make housing affordable and prevent future homelessness.

5. Host

Streetlytes volunteers prepare the meals for the homeless.Christian Today

In many ways, this could be the most demanding, but potentially rewarding, action. Offering emergency care for a young person who's found themselves on the streets is certainly a prospect which would make many of us uncomfortable. But think of the difference you could make to a young life. A heartwarming story of a Guardian reporter hosting a Syrian refugee gives an insight into the challenges and the joys.

Churches already host winter night shelters in huge numbers, alongside food banks, debt advice and other provision. Churches are already at the forefront of emergency care. Maybe there is scope for home groups to work together to host families? Maybe church buildings could be used for temporary shelters? Maybe the church could act as the convener of a joined-up local response to homelessness? What's needed in your local area will be dependent on how good the provision already is, but the chances are there will be a role for you to play.

There's much good work already going on in tackling homelessness and its causes. In celebrating and marking Homeless Sunday this week, churches are making a statement that everyone matters to God.