Churches have a long tradition of reaching out and helping people who are in need.
Many of the large and small organisations helping people who are homeless today were set up by faith based groups, with some retaining a strong focus on faith.
Indeed, Changing Lives was started in the early 70s by members of Catholic Social Services and the Society of St Vincent DePaul, responding to high numbers of people sleeping on the street in Newcastle.
We were originally named The Tyneside Cyrenians, after Simon of Cyrene, the man compelled by the Romans to carry Jesus’ cross.
Today, Changing Lives supports people who are experiencing homelessness, providing supported accommodation, outreach to people sleeping rough, and help to people in their own homes when they may be at risk of losing them.
People experience homeless for a variety of reasons: as a result of financial difficulties or long term poverty, leaving abusive relationships, family breakdown, mental health crisis or transition from hospital, prison or care.
For some it is a brief period and they get back on their feet quickly, but for others, including some of the people who use Changing Lives services, people can get stuck in a cycle of homelessness.
This ‘stuck-ness’ isn’t always to do with the lack of available accommodation or difficulty in accessing benefits, although these do contribute.
Often, people who come to our services have experienced trauma, as children through abuse or neglect, and as adults through one–off or repeated traumatic experiences.
Problematic use of alcohol or drugs can follow this, as a way of coping with the intense painful emotions trauma brings.
Family support may be limited, indeed other family members may have also experienced trauma and be dealing with their own grief and pain.
And trusting others and building new support networks can be difficult, the community around you may be a survival group, where people with a common difficulty band together, which helps with day to day survival but offers little in terms of change or growth.
This means that the social capital we all rely on to get through life – the chat with a friend when you’ve had a bad day; the material support from a relative when money is a bit tight one month; and the spiritual support, however you understand that, when you’re not sure what you should do in a situation – can be absent, and lead to feelings of hopelessness.
So whilst the practical stuff is important, and material poverty is a real factor, chronic homelessness is a result of a complex and interrelated mix of many forms of poverty, including poverty of social relationships and community, and poverty of aspiration and hope.
Changing Lives has a three-stage theory of change with which we underpin our work.
The three stages are Being, Becoming and Belonging.
The first stage, BEING, is about:
- Reaching out and engaging with people
- Accepting people where they are at now
- Getting to know people and their aspirations
- Consistent, reliable, honest, empathetic communication and actions
- Creating environments in which people feel safe and comfortable
- Clarity about what the service can and can’t do, where, when and how
The second stage is about BECOMING, starting the journey of recovery and building emotional resilience, including:
- Acknowledging trauma and helping to understand intense emotions
- Develop the skills to manage distressing emotions and better regulate feelings
- Focus on the internal and external assets required to initiate and sustain long-term recovery
- Strengths-based work to build a sense of self and increase self-efficacy
And then we help people develop a sense of BELONGING, supporting people to continue developing internal and external resources in their own lives and communities. This is a really individual journey which includes support and facilitation for each individual to find their own place within a community which supports their recovery journey.
Our exit point is when people have developed social networks within their own chosen communities and find purpose and meaning to their lives whatever this may be.
On this Homeless Sunday, I would like to thank all the churches and other faith groups that help people experiencing homelessness by providing comfort, community, food and other practical help, and encourage you to engage with people on a spiritual as well as a practical level.
Helping people to draw on their own strengths and build on their inner self, as well as offering a space for supportive relationships and opportunities to contribute, really fosters that sense of belonging that helps us all flourish in life.