06 August 2013
Report finds faith is important to the homeless
A recent report has found that faith and spirituality play a positive part in the lives of homeless people. Lost and Found: Faith and spirituality in the lives of homeless people was published by research agency Lemos and Crane and written by self-professing atheist, Carwyn Gravell.
More than 75 interviews with homeless people were conducted to research the report, in partnership with many agencies including the Connection at St Martin's and the West London Mission. The Lost and Found report has brought new insight into the needs and aspirations of homeless and vulnerable people, and new guidance for service providers on how to work in more person-centred ways with clients.
In the report, Gravell states: "Despite the doubts and reservations of interviewers who feared that asking homeless people about faith and spirituality might be too personal or intrusive, the vast majority of those interviewed found the experience to be stimulating and thought-provoking – further, some felt that being asked about their lives in depth, about their past, their religious beliefs and spirituality validated their identity in the eyes of service providers as people in their own right not just service users with problems."
The report explores the benefits of religious belief for homeless people - the "fruits of faith". Gravell continues: "For homeless people, religious belief, practice and doctrine can help them come to terms with a past that is often characterised by profound emotional and material loss, enhance and give structure to the present where time hangs heavy for many, and create a purposeful future built on hope, fellowship and a sense of purpose."
It goes on to cite evidence of the positive experience of those who attend worship which may not be the outcome secularists would assume: "Only one person attending a place of worship said they felt as if they were 'having their brain washed', the standard critique that anti-religionists would apply to religious communities."
The National Secular Society's Terry Sanderson said: "This report tries to convince us that it is not in the business of encouraging proselytising among the homeless and vulnerable, but you don't have to read too far between the lines to see that is exactly what it is about."
Jon Kuhrt director of the West London Mission, shares about a homeless day centre in Marylebone: "The chaplain helps to facilitate a spirituality group, where rough-sleepers reflect and discuss the 'deep things' of life. I love how it grapples with questions in an honest and raw way… As we discussed the courage of the early Church, one of the men declared bluntly: 'This is what we need — not this wishy-washy Christianity. The thing about Jesus was…he had balls.'"
Jon said of the Lost and Found report: "It calls Christians to wake up to opportunities and is one of the most significant reports for Christian social action that I have ever read... It should rouse Christian social action projects from their spiritual slumbers. It challenges us to have more confidence to articulate and integrate faith alongside practical work. Too often, Christians have allowed activism to mask faith rather than to illustrate it.
"The report affirms the role of faith and clears away some of the historic baggage which has blocked the integration of spirituality alongside practical care. It will be received like nectar to the many Christians who have clung faithfully to the frequently lonely belief that spirituality is relevant and that it can be expressed in inclusive and non-coercive ways."
Dr Dave Landrum, director of advocacy at the Evangelical Alliance, said: "It's encouraging that this report recognises the immense work of churches with homeless people in UK. It's also extremely encouraging that the atheist author recognises the vital role of faith in transforming the most vulnerable people in our society. Gravell's identification of an inadequate and failing secular orthodoxy should give confidence for Christians to put Jesus at the centre of justice and mercy work, both practically and vocally.
"As the state provision of homeless services is set to shrink in the coming years, this report should provide encouragement for the Church to develop missional approaches among the poor that are more confidently and explicity gospel-centred. After all, that's what works."
The report concludes with clear recommendations about how faith and spirituality should become integrated within the mainstream of services for homeless people.