Housing and Homelessness Media Statement

Homeless Jesus, Farm Street Jesuit Church, Mayfair, London, UK

Fr Dominic Robinson SJ, Parish Priest of Farm Street and Chair of the Justice and Peace Commission said, “During the pandemic Central London Catholic Churches Homeless Services have worked with other faith groups, agencies, hospitality businesses and Westminster City Council to feed and provide showers, clothing and human care for some 300 homeless left on the streets of London.”

Colette Joyce, Co-ordinator of the Justice and Peace Commission, commented, “We are very concerned that, while there was a real success story at the beginning of lockdown with about 90% of homeless people given a temporary hotel place, as this crisis continues to unfold, we are witnessing more and more new destitute on the streets who are losing jobs, livelihoods and homes as a direct result of the pandemic. With night shelters closed, day centres and public services operating greatly reduced services, we are seeing the beginnings of a new underclass who, through no fault of their own, find themselves without a safety net in their hour of need.”

Fr Dominic added, “With the lifting of the ban on evictions from rented property, the end of the furlough scheme, and no move from national government on giving a reprieve to those with no recourse to public funds, the numbers of homeless on the streets and on the fragile line between just managing and destitution will get worse and worse.  It promises to be a huge humanitarian crisis on a grand scale.  Everybody wants to end rough sleeping forever – homeless agencies, faith groups, local authorities – and the united effort over the summer has shown we can work well together and find solutions.” 

Charities, such as Shelter, have taken steps this week to update their services with advice and guidance for those who now face eviction or have become newly homeless, but the support available is limited.

The Jesuit Refugee Service is calling attention, in particular, to the plight of thousands of people recently refused asylum who are now facing evictions from Home Office accommodation (as reported in The Guardian on 19/08/20). Evictions were paused in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Evictions recommence at the same time as the government is discussing fresh lockdown measures due to a rise in COVID-19 cases.

Sarah Teather, JRS UK’s director, said: “Manufactured homelessness should never be considered an acceptable tool of immigration enforcement, and it is deeply troubling that anyone should face renewed homelessness in the middle of a global pandemic.”

With the possibility of a second lockdown looming in some form, we continue to call for a temporary reprieve for the duration of the pandemic from the no recourse to public funds rules so that Councils, housing associations and charities can respond to all those who present as homeless. We further urge an immediate halt to the evictions of asylum seekers from hostels who have nowhere else to go. The ban on evictions of other tenants should be reinstated immediately in the event of any increase of pandemic measures. With Citizens UK, we ask those with the power to do so to provide these concessions and to avert a further crisis which will overwhelm all who want to help. 

Everyone in society deserves to be treated with dignity and respect and we need to put policies in place so that together we can ensure this. 

Statement from the Jesuit Refugee Service

Statement from Citizens UK

Campaigning for Affordable Housing in East London – the Olympic Legacy

“Many long-standing Catholic members of The East London Citizens Organisation (TELCO) feature in a new film released this week, marking the eighth anniversary of London hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Staff and pupils from St Antony’s Primary School, Newham, St Bonaventure’s School, Forest Gate and St Stephen’s Manor Park, [in the Diocese of Brentwood], are among those highlighting the broken promises made in 2005, and call on policymakers to honour the pledges they made and work with them for a new deal on the Olympic Park.”

Full article: Independent Catholic News

This powerful short film also addresses the roots of the ‘affordable’ housing crisis and looks at the change of mindset that will be required to prioritise houses as homes for people rather than sources of profit.

The awarding of the 2012 Games to London promised much for communities but has not yet delivered. Now that the Tokyo Games have been pushed forward to 2021, we have given another year to reflect on the legacy of our own Games and another opportunity to create a ‘new normal’ as we ‘build back better’ following our pandemic lockdown experience.

What lessons have we learnt?

Housing developing is resuming again around the Olympic site, as elsewhere in London and the rest of the UK, so there has never been time to campaign for the homes we truly need.

Catholic Union call for answers on homelessness with Justice & Peace and Catholic charities

We have partnered with the Catholic Union and front-line Catholic charities in London and around the country to appeal strongly to the government for support schemes to be made available to people with ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ (NRPF) for the duration of the pandemic emergency.

The Catholic community stand ready to give charitable and voluntary assistance, wherever statutory services are provided, to enable people resolve their precarious life situations and return to self-sufficiency.

Homeless queue outside National Gallery
Homeless queue outside the National Gallery, London

The Catholic Union and other church groups in London have warned of a rough sleeping crisis, unless the Government acts soon.

Around 15,000 people across the country have been housed by local authorities since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. This has been made possible by extra funding from the Government to provide accommodation for rough sleepers in empty hotels and hostels as part of the “everyone in” scheme. This includes 1,400 people in London.

Many of the contracts between local authorities and accommodation providers are due to come to an end shortly, as hotels are allowed to reopen from 4 July. The Government has announced £85 million of new funding to secure alternative rooms for rough sleepers, such as student accommodation. But church groups are worried this has come too late for some people, and there is no extra help for the growing number of people still on the streets.

The Government has said it is committed to meeting the needs of rough sleepers to ensure “that as few people as possible return to the streets.”

Dame Louise Casey has been asked to lead a taskforce on providing long-term solutions to ending rough sleeping. But no timescale has been given for this work, and church groups are worried that time is running out to produce a plan.

In a letter to Dame Louise, the Catholic Union has called for all people currently given shelter by the “everyone in” scheme to be housed permanently. It also highlights the challenges faced by rough sleepers with no resource to public funds.

The letter was sent on behalf of the Justice and Peace Department of the Catholic Diocese of Westminster, who are working in conjunction with Caritas, the social action department of the Diocese of Westminster and the Jesuit Refugee Service UK.

Chair of Westminster Justice and Peace, Fr Dominic Robinson, commented: “During the lockdown the central London Catholic Churches have been working nonstop with local businesses and government to help the many rough sleepers still on our streets. Some funds are being promised to rehouse the homeless currently in hotels but now many more men and women who’ve lost jobs and become destitute are pouring onto our streets. This catastrophe is avoidable if there is a temporary reprieve for the growing number of destitute who have no recourse to public funds. If public funds are made available for this group of people left on the streets, we stand ready to work together for what we all want – a permanent and holistic solution to this affront to human dignity which sees those who have lost everything with nowhere to turn”.

Catholic Union Head of Public Affairs, James Somerville-Meikle, commented: “The new funding from the Government is a step in the right direction, but it has come late in the day. Many rough sleepers face being turned out of hotel and hostel rooms in the week ahead. Whilst the long-term commitment to end homelessness is welcome, we need an immediate plan for how to prevent a rough sleeping crisis. Church groups stand ready to be part of the solution and can help get support to some of the most vulnerable people in society – people that government services often struggle to reach.”

Read the full letter here:

Dame Louise Casey
Chair, Taskforce on Rough Sleeping

Dear Dame Louise

Re: Contribution of church groups to tackling rough sleeping

I’m writing to you on behalf of the Catholic Union and several church groups involved in helping the homeless in London.

They include a number of parishes and social action groups within the Catholic Diocese of Westminster – Caritas, and Justice and Peace – who have been working with the London Passage and the Jesuit Refugee Service UK.

Representatives from Caritas Westminster and Westminster Justice and Peace would welcome the opportunity to brief you on the work they are doing, the challenges they face, and the help they can provide, in finding a long-term solution to ending rough sleeping.

The Catholic Union is the leading representative group for lay Catholics in Britain. We seek to promote the views and interests of the 4.5 million Catholics in this country.

The Catholic Church has a rich history of helping those in need, particularly at times of crisis, including the homeless, and has been the principal provider of emergency food and pastoral care for the homeless during the lockdown as all the usual day and night shelters have been closed.

We welcome the work of your taskforce in looking at the causes of rough sleeping and producing recommendations to Government on ending homelessness. This work has clearly been given greater importance and urgency in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

The extra funding given to councils to support rough sleepers during this crisis has been a step in the right direction. The “everyone in” scheme has helped to get thousands of people off our streets and into secure accommodation. This has been a fantastic example of good co-operation between local and central government, charities and the private sector.

The Catholic Church, along with other volunteer groups, has played its part by helping local authorities get rough sleepers housed during this crisis and looking after those still on our streets with an enormous feeding programme through our parishes’ contact with large London hotels who have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on this operation.

However, there are concerns about what will happen when existing funding for the “everyone in” scheme comes to an end. The policies below would make a huge difference is tackling homelessness once and for all.

1. A guarantee that the Government will extend housing support for all those currently in hotels, to support their move to new homes where this cannot be provided by local authorities.

A temporary reprieve for all those with no recourse to public funds in relation to support available to help the homeless, this would be in line with existing discretion with regard to destitution (section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999). This should include those who have exhausted their rights or have no current legal status.

Access to free legal advice concerning the rights of individuals to seek and receive help if they are homeless.

We sincerely hope your taskforce will consider these points and make recommendations on them when you report to the Communities Secretary and Prime Minister.

Church groups stand ready to be part of the long-term solution and can help get support to some of the most vulnerable people in society – people that government services often struggle to reach.

The leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, recently commented: “In 2020 no person should be faced with the indignity of being compelled to sleep on the street or the dangers and challenges associated with doing so… Only by working together can we find just and permanent solutions for the people who are homeless. I hope and pray that the new momentum found during this crisis can be sustained and will be successful.”

The Catholic Union would be delighted to help arrange a meeting with you to discuss the contribution of church groups in London to tackling homelessness. A meeting need not take long, but it might help provide a useful insight at this crucial time for the work of your taskforce.

If this is of interest, I would be pleased to discuss details with your office.

Let’s use this moment to end rough sleeping once and for all in this country.

Nigel Parker

The Catholic Union of Great Britain Email: director@catholicunion.org.uk

Catholic Union of Great Britain