CANON TOM KENNAR: The ways we're helping the homeless in our town
Rev Tom, the Rector of St Faith's Church, Havant, has had queries from people wondering what St Faith's is doing about the growing homelessness problem in Havant. Here he explains.
I’m the first to admit that I wish we could do more than we do – but there are frankly only so many hours in a day and there are many needs in our community.
But for those who would like a little more information, here are 12 ways in which St Faith’s Church, in West Street, is trying to make a difference to the current homeless crisis:
1. We keep the church open every day, with the heating and lights turned on, from 8am to at least 3.30pm (7.30pm on Fridays and 7pm on Sundays) as a warm place for any local person to use. Some homeless people use this gift of warm, dry, well-lit space to sleep. It is not unusual to find a sleeping person in one of our pews, and they are welcome to be there.
2. We serve free hot drinks every morning, from Monday to Friday (10am-midday), on Sundays after worship, and on at least two Saturday mornings per month. No charge is asked – not even a donation basket is put out. All are welcome, and all will be gladly given hot drinks and snacks.
3. We can give tangible support to any homeless (or other person in need) who comes to us in genuine need, through the Rector’s Discretionary Fund. Volunteers and the parish office staff can call clergy anytime in response to such requests, and our phone numbers are freely available in church for anyone to call (if we are not actually in church). We never give cash – but we will always try to meet an immediate need for food, clothing or essential transport if the request is judged genuine and urgent.
4. We provide a flat in a Havant property. The location is not widely publicised for the privacy of the occupants. It is let through a housing association for the housing of people in need.
5. We provide space in the Pallant Centre for four groups who support people suffering with addiction problems – often a root cause of homelessness. We have recently redecorated this space and installed central heating to make it more comfortable. These groups include
Alcoholics, Narcotics, and Gamblers Anonymous, and a support group for the families of alcoholics, called Al-Anon.
6. We have a small supply of rucksacks, provided through the Havant Homeless Network to which we belong, containing essential supplies for people who find themselves suddenly homeless, and who seek our help – including a sleeping bag, food, toiletries, gloves and socks.
7. We are active members of the Havant Community Homeless Trust – a group of organisations and individuals including churches, a borough councillor and homeless charities who are working together to provide more help for the homeless. Last year we started a scheme for homeless people to obtain free washing tokens at a local laundrette. Options for a permanent single-person housing project are under discussion.
8. We are providing logistical and financial support to a newly-formed group called Help the Homeless in Havant and Surrounding Areas who go out each evening to deliver hot food and drinks to street homeless people. We have given them thermos flasks, cups and some food, and have paid for some of their personal expenses, foil blankets, and transport costs. We are carefully monitoring whether the wonderful nightly gift by these beautiful kind-hearted people is in fact helping homeless people to turn their lives around, or inadvertently (and entirely unintentionally) prolonging their homelessness by enabling them to not need the help of professional agencies for a longer period. A difficult decision, and one we are carefully monitoring.
9. We encourage our congregation to donate weekly to the Beacon Foodbank.
10. We provide information in church to where they can find professional help, advice and support.
11. We provide information on the outside church noticeboard, telling people in urgent housing need what their legal rights are, and where they can find help.
12. We give highly-subsidised rent to SSAFA (the Armed Forces Charity) who will provide assistance to any person (or their family) who has served a minimum of one day in the forces.
There is, potentially, much more which could be done to help homeless people in Havant - including the provision of affordable, single person accommodation (and help and support with rents and deposits). But this is too big a task for one church to handle on our own, which is why we work alongside other Havant agencies, in partnership, to try to make things better. In the long term we are exploring, with other agencies, whether a Night Shelter might be a practical possibility. But this is a costly endeavour (in terms of staff and other resources) for a relatively small number of homeless people.
Please join us by praying that all people of good will in Havant will work together to provide yet greater support to homeless and other suffering people.
We do not presently seek volunteer support for our particular ministry to the homeless, staffing of which is met out of existing church funds, and the week-to-week giving of time and money of our members.
If you wish to offer time to support the homeless, we recommend contacting Help the Homeless in Havant and Surrounding Areas via their
Facebook page. Or contact me directly, and I will put you in touch with them.
If you wish to support work with the homeless with a gift of money, please consider supporting Two Saints hostel in Leigh Park, The Beacon Foodbank and Café in the Meridian Centre, Havant URC Saturday Lunches, and the Roberts Centre, Portsmouth. Donations to the Rector’s
Discretionary Fund are always welcome, and can be made through the Parish Office in North Street, or via marked yellow envelopes available in St Faith’s church.
To contact Rev Tom e-mail [email protected]