“Change happens when we treat people as people with whom we build relationships.”
(Archbishop Justin Welby speaking at HMP Brixton April 2015) (link to full speech here)
This must be my favourite quote of the moment, and certainly one that encourages me that what we do, day by day as Prison Chaplains has the power and ability to change lives. When we see people in inductions I am sure that you, like me have had the response “sorry Guv’ I’m not religious”, to which I always return “but you are human, aren’t you? So we’ll look after you.” When we treat people as people barriers fall down and the possibility for change rises up.
This month, I also met with a like-minded person in Ed Walker, founder and CEO of “Hope in Action”, a Christian charity based in Peterborough who have homes for the homeless (including people who have left prison) in 4 towns in the East / East Midlands. They are a real example of a “Project of Hope” and so I asked Ed to write me a few words to crystalise his vision and plans for “Hope into Action” I hope that you enjoy, and are inspired as I was.
"Five years ago, before the first house was even opened, I walked into HMP Peterborough and met a guy who had lost everything and needed a home. Just as he needed a home, so I needed him….because I was opening a home and needed someone to live in it.
Five years on - he is still with us, working for us and has been promoted to become one of our key leaders, helping drive the organisation forward. That first home was supported by a local church and now we have 30 churches supporting 30 homes – each home has 2 or 3 tenants. So now, in a time of unprecedented budget cuts with charities going bust, we have over 60 people sleeping in and supported by church run homes.
Most of these people need not only a home but also a fresh set of relationships in order to break their cycle of crime, or homelessness. We believe that underlying so much homelessness, is a relational poverty. People need real friends, role models and guidance. Analyse your life without relationships and you will soon realise how important they are to your sense of well-being. [Ever thought about the first thing God said was not good (Gen 2:18)? Bob]
That is our model – we give people a home and friendship and a support group from a local church. We have a particular heart for meeting people in prisons, then at the gate and then taking them to a home. We help them transition back into society. For them to stay in a home they need to engage with our mentors from the church whom we train in advance. Churches do all this in partnership with our professional support workers who cover the technical aspects such as tenancies, benefits, helping with employment agencies etc…..in this way the church can concentrate on what it does best: love, care, friendship, prayer, mentoring.
We will house anyone who is vulnerable, homeless and in need of a home. Often referrals come from drug agencies, homeless organisations or even the local church –we have a special form for former prisoners.
Often that first hour, day, week and month are critical. Even as they are walking out of the gate they may be ‘scoring some drugs’, so meeting them, taking them to their home, taking them to their first probation appointment is vital. We often find that their first benefit payment can take a few weeks to come through and so helping them into those first few weeks, providing them with food, is key. We love it when we see churches, working alongside our professionals to do this and then building lasting relationships with our tenants as they integrate into society and jobs.
Countless studies have stipulated that having somewhere to live, strong social capital and something to do is vital to the success of someone’s recovery. We believe the church is critically poised to provide a sense of love and security to those that need it most. We also see that, as state funded services shrink, now is the time for churches to hear that call and ‘provide the poor wanderer with shelter’ (Isaiah 58) and love. If you would like to get involved then please do get in touch!"