Churches continue their commitment to housing justice

By staff writers
June 14, 2013

Westminster government Housing Minister Mark Prisk was among those joining representatives from churches and housing organisations from all over the country this week.

The 'Mobilising the Church' conference in took place in Bradford on 12 June 2013. It was organised by Housing Justice, the national voice of Christian action on housing and homelessness.

Many churches are already responding to housing need in their communities in significant ways, and have been doing so for many years, the conference heard.

A growing number are opening night shelters and other much needed support for people in need. But the challenge is growing, and while the day was a celebration of the churches' role, high on the agenda for many delegates was the urgent need to address the causes of homelessness.

Mark Prisk, the Housing Minister, said: "I am very pleased to be with you today at this Housing Justice conference. Churches do vital work in responding to the needs in their communities, and homeless rough sleepers are amongst the most vulnerable."

He outlined the government’s plans to improve housing supply, especially by encouraging more institutional investment. He also tried to defend the controversial 'spare room subsidy' (bedroom tax) and called on delegates to follow the example of the ecumenical Churches Together and get involved in new communities being built across the country.

Prisk cited Cranbrook near Exeter as a prime example, where a Christian minister is already there to help bring the new community together as new residents move in.

However, housing campaigners inside and outside the churches remain deeply critical of the failure of successive governments to tackle the roots of homelessness, housing shortage and the destruction of large swathes of public and social housing since the Thatcher era.

Churches have also condemned the punitive and divisive impact of the coalition goverment's bedroom tax, which threatens to further impoverish people on housing benefit and does little or nothing to create the new housing the country desperately needs for some of its least well-off citizens.

The conference marked the 10th anniversary of the launch of Housing Justice in 2003, founded by the merger of the Catholic Housing Aid Society and the Churches National Housing Coalition.

Over 80 people attended, representing churches, Christian charities and housing and homelessness organisations including Green Pastures, Emmaus, Hope into Housing, Quaker Housing Trust, Homeless Beanies, The Passage, Boaz Trust, Nightstop, St George’s Crypt, Homeless Link, The Cardinal Hume Centre and many more. The conference was supported by Triodos Bank and CCLA

Juli Thomson of Bradford Inn Churches and Homeless Beanies helped to organise the day. She commented: “It was really encouraging to meet with so many Christians and others reaching out to the homeless. We have worked in partnership with Housing Justice since the launch of the Bradford Inn Churches Night Shelter in 2010, and this conference really helped to put our work into the national context”

Workshops included advice on setting up a new night shelter; using church land and property for affordable housing, and working in partnership to house homeless people in the private rented sector.

The Bradford Focus panel session included the leader of Bradford City Council, David Green, as well as representatives from Bradford Inn Churches, Homeless Speak out, Nightstop, and Beacon who offer accommodation and other practical help to migrants and people seeking asylum who are left destitute with no recourse to public funds.

The Conference was followed by a Service of Thanksgiving at Bradford Cathedral, and a well attended Gala Dinner at Forsters in Centenary Square.

Special guest speaker at the Gala Dinner was Robina Rafferty, Director of CHAS and the first Chief Executive of Housing Justice.

She said: “The challenge today remains as great if not greater than it has been throughout the history of the organisation. Of greatest concern to me is the fact that hard won rights like the priority for the most vulnerable are in danger of being eroded.”

Housing Justice Chief Executive Alison Gelder concluded: “Churches have always been in the business of helping people in need. This10th anniversary conference brought together our national network of friends and colleagues to look at ways we can meet the challenge of homelessness and housing need. Housing Justice will continue to speak up for those who are most vulnerable and excluded in society”

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