By Kathy Mohan, Chief Executive of Housing Justice
Blessed John Henry Newman wrote that “to live is to change”. However, as he went on to acknowledge, this is not always easy. As Housing Justice bid farewell to Chief Executive Alison Gelder on 17th March, Housing Justice went through one of its biggest changes in its recent history. As Alison’s successor, I know there are big shoes to fill and major challenges to face.
Over Alison’s 14 years at Housing Justice there is much to be proud of. Housing Justice’s work with Winter Night Shelters evolved from a forum for 5 London night shelters to a network of more than 70, an established toolkit to support the development of new night shelters and a respected Quality Mark with 13 night shelters now graded as Excellent. The Faith in Affordable Housing project has grown from an online guide for church property officers to the provision of bricks and mortar for people who need homes. In London tonight, 32 destitute asylum seekers will stay with volunteer hosts through the Housing Justice London Hosting Project. The project has provided hospitality to more than 50 destitute migrants since its conception in 2015. A range of training, toolkits and support programmes have been delivered to churches and community groups offering practical support to those experiencing homelessness.
Throughout all this work, Housing Justice has been a vocal advocate for those in housing need, speaking in parishes and to other groups, giving radio and TV interviews, writing articles about Christian action on homelessness and not forgetting Tweeting and Facebooking. Housing Justice are a voice for Church concerns in the homelessness and housing sectors as well as with national and local government.
Yet the scandal of homelessness and the need for more housing has continued. The most visceral sign of homelessness, rough sleeping, has increased exponentially; government statistics for 2016 estimated 4134 people slept rough on any one night in England, double the number from 2010 and largely thought to be an underestimate. 114,790 families applied to their local council for homelessness assistance in 2015/16 with 57,730 being accepted. It is easy to become hard to these grim statistics, to immunise ourselves to the stories that lay behind each statistic and to doubt that meaningful change is possible. However, our faith teaches us to have the confidence to speak out when we see injustice and to offer hope and practical support to those in need.
All the indications suggest that the challenges for those in housing need are likely to increase over the next few years, meaning that the work Housing Justice does will become more and more important. As poverty grows in suburban areas, there are new challenges for how those communities respond. As inflation grows, wages remain stagnant and welfare declines. We may well see yet more grim statistics. As changes to immigration legislation start to take effect, it is likely that we will see more destitute migrants. As the Government tries to meet its commitments to building affordable housing, there will be more calls for underused land. Faith Communities, churches and Housing Justice must continue to bring hope and practical support to those in need in the challenging years to come.
I join Housing Justice having spent my working life working in housing and homelessness services. Most recently I was Regional Head at St Mungo’s, but I’ve also previously worked for a YMCA, The Guinness Partnership, Sanctuary, Servite and within Local Government. Throughout my working life those principles of hope and practical support for those in need have been paramount. These same principles led me to become a volunteer in my local Church and Community Winter Night Shelter, becoming the first chair of trustees of the project. We worked closely with Housing Justice in our Church Winter Night Shelter, so I have seen first-hand the difference this work can make.
As I start my tenure as Chief Executive, I am struck by the faithfulness of Housing Justice’s supporters. Without their prayers, donations and thoughtfulness none of the work the organisation does, and the difference it makes, would be possible. At Housing Justice, we concentrate on the work that cannot be funded by the Government, helping people who have fallen through the net, are unable to access state support or who need something more than what services commissioned by Local Authorities can provide. We also don’t receive large sums from the Church or other denominations. So we, and the people we help, depend on the gifts of individuals, donations from Religious Orders and collections from parishes and congregations. Our Lenten appeal to support the work we do and help us meet the challenges of the future is currently taking place. You can find details of how to support us at www.housingjustice.org.uk.
It seems appropriate that the transition at Housing Justice is taking place during Lent, a time of reflection before the new beginning of Easter. As Housing Justice begins a new chapter, I ask for your prayers for our small but committed team, for Alison in her retirement, for our projects and above all for those who Housing Justice was the set up to assist – the homeless.
This article first appeared in the CSAN ‘Caritas in Action’ column in the Catholic Times on 14.04.17