19 August 2020

West London Mission and changing responses to homelessness

Dan Simpson, Methodist intern with the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Housing Commission, looks at how the West London Mission is creating new ways of supporting people faced with homelessness.

West London Mission (WLM) have been empowering people affected by homelessness, poverty and trauma since 1887. Set up and governed by the Hinde Street Methodist Church and Kings Cross Methodist Church, they have offered all the standard church-linked approaches – night shelters, day centres and hostels for people with various needs and challenging circumstances.

Their Christian ethos is key to their success, enabling them to meet people’s spiritual and emotional needs alongside their physical demands. Recently, though, an element has changed. Where previously they were just responding to crisis need, they’ve expanded to have a more preventative approach.

For example, The ‘Pret House at WLM St. Luke’s’ marks the unique and innovative partnership between WLM and Pret Foundation, providing newly renovated accommodation with high spec and comfortable communal spaces and access to expert advice to help homeless people transition into the private rented market through the ‘Rising Stars’ programme. The programme offers so much in terms of support around employment, providing a 360° spectrum of guidance. People are empowered to build their confidence, financial capability and other skills. They’re guided in saving money to move into private rented accommodation. This aims to skill people to the level where they are not using services and back in the workforce.

WLM are also providing housing for fourteen key workers who would otherwise not be able to live in London through their Low-Cost Housing for Key Workers service. They offer high quality, low-cost rooms for single people working full time to deliver essential services that keep the city moving such as emergency service workers, hospital staff, health care workers, teachers, care workers and cleaners. The rooms are in a large refurbished building with excellent shared facilities - a large kitchen, lounge, smart shower and bathrooms. The monthly rent covers everything and the money they pay goes into the running costs of WLM helping people affected by homelessness, poverty and trauma to live more fulfilling lives.

By providing people stable and affordable housing, WLM are contributing to reduce the need for their crisis support services, acting as a safety net - catching people before they become homeless, offering their services to everyone inclusively.

Not every church is running a £3.3 million charity, but there’s something we can learn from WLM. We’re called to help the most vulnerable, but that includes ensuring that as many people as possible don’t get there in the first place. At a time where rough sleeping has been practically ended overnight, we can’t go back to mass homelessness. This means that churches should think about how their response to homelessness can be preventative. Providing affordable, stable housing is a key part of that.

WLM are currently running their COVID19 emergency appeal and kindly ask for contributions as they are facing a triple blow of reduced income, increased costs and very vulnerable residents during the pandemic.

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