Central London Catholic churches respond to needs of rough sleepers and urge greater action to solve rehousing needs

Volunteers in Trafalgar Square. Photo by Volunteer Team Leader Anthony Doran (foreground)

Caritas Westminster has assisted a group of parishes with the launch of a new refreshment station for the homeless in central London, located in front of the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square. Since the beginning of May, the project has been providing snacks, soft drinks, toiletries and other essential items for homeless people living in the capital during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Colette Joyce, Coordinator of the Justice and Peace Commission at the Diocese of Westminster, has been representing Caritas Westminster and supporting the churches involved in the refreshment hub project since Easter. Colette has also been in regular contact with Westminster City Council who are authorising the project. In addition to Colette’s support, the project has also benefited from the expertise of Elizabeth Wills, Caritas Westminster Development Worker. Elizabeth joined the volunteers at the start of the project to ensure that safe social distancing measures were put in place from the outset, in order to protect all volunteers and service users.

Colette Joyce, Justice and Peace Co-ordinator at the Diocese of Westminster, said:

‘Westminster Council Rough Sleeping Team have been working miracles to get rough sleepers housed and supported in hotels but they have had to turn to the faith groups to provide the majority of the assistance to those still on the streets.

‘We have mobilised volunteers and donors to give generously of their time and resources and we will continue to do so for as long as necessary, but this shouldn’t be happening. The Council staff need to be given more resources, including more accommodation, to get people off the streets and into places where they can isolate properly to protect themselves and others from disease transmission. The government should also be ensuring that new cases of homelessness are prevented or picked up and resolved immediately.

‘As we mark the 5th anniversary of Laudato Si’, the many street homeless still making their way to Trafalgar Square for something to eat and drink is a stark reminder that we need to address the huge inequalities in our own society if we are to heed “the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor”.

‘We can create a “new normal” if we seize the opportunity presented to us. Our volunteers have responded with alacrity and generosity but also shock that this was necessary at all. For Westminster Catholics, our response on the ground compels us also to engage in a new civic conversation about future measures of “success” in society…’ More

Read full article on the Diocese of Westminster website