Discussing religion and spirituality is often a ‘no-go’ area for professionals and agencies that support homeless people, a new report has found.
‘Lost and Found’, published by social thinktank Lemos&Crane, offers a fascinating glimpse into the faith and beliefs of the homeless.
Report author Carwyn Gravell argues that by ignoring the spiritual and religious aspects of people’s lives service providers are failing to provide a truly holistic approach.
He said most of those questioned thought organisations that support homeless people should at the very least have an open conversation with ‘service users’ about spiritual matters.
‘Some had practical ideas and suggestions as to how service providers could incorporate faith and spirituality into their service,’ he said, adding that when an interest in organised faith is revealed, homeless people should be matched up with local churches, faith groups and places of worship.
One of the organisations that took part in the research was the Cardinal Hume Centre in central London, an agency that helps homeless young people and families in need. Corin Pilling, manager of Learning, Development and Employment, agreed that for many years talking about religion and spirituality has been a taboo area in the homeless sector.
‘Obviously [at Cardinal Hume] we do have an interest in what is happening with our clients in terms of their spiritual lives and we want to allow them a route to explore that, and so it did strike us as an interesting piece of research to get involved in.
‘It was all about talking to clients to gauge their opinions about spirituality and their own interaction with services and whetherthe question of their faith had ever been raised. Overwhelmingly the reaction was “no, it’s never come up, but it’s important to me; it’s part of my story”
‘People told us they wanted that conversation to be part of what was offered by these different services. The response was seemingly consistent despite the variety of organisations that people had come into contact with.’
Pilling believes the sector may have moved away from discussing religion because of past mistakes by faith communities. ‘Perhaps it’s a sense of conditional services that have been offered to people ? that old Victorian model of hear the sermon, you’ll get the meal,’ he said.
He added that any organisation of integrity has moved well away from that approach.
‘But equally we need to recognise that there is an appropriate way of raising the [faith] question which is nothing to do with proselytising but everything to do with promoting rights to be treated as whole human beings who may have a spirituality and a faith that’s very important to them,’ he said. ‘Engagement in that area is going to be key in terms of their recovery from homelessness and integration into their community and their well-being in general.
‘The report has been fantastic because it’s really elevated the conversation. It’s no longer a conversation that has to happen in the margins. We’re now able to engage with people and say, “Look, this is really important.”’
John Kuhrt of West London Mission has drawn up a code of conduct for Christian agencies working with homeless people. Log on to Housingjustice.org.uk and look for ‘charter for Christian Homelessness Agencies’