10th November 11am St Martin-in-the-Fields: Service for homeless people who died in past year

Homeless Jesus by Timothy Schmaltz, Farm Street Church

A Service of Commemoration for people who have been homeless who have died in the past year, will take place this Thursday, 10 November 2022 at 11.00am at St Martin-in-the Fields, Trafalgar Square, London, WC2N 4JH

The Choir with No Name, Streetwise Opera and the Gavin Bryars Ensemble will be performing.

The Service will be followed by refreshments in St Martin’s Hall to which all are welcome.

Revd Richard Carter writes: “Please check your journey plans as there is TFL tube disruption on Thursday. We are hoping as many of you can come as possible by bus, rail bike and foot. All our choirs are still hoping to be with us. We look forward to seeing you at the service and the reception afterwards.”

The service will also be live streamed on: www.facebook.com/stmartininthefields

Watch a short clip from the 2019 service: www.youtube.com/watch?v=cWYkVTVU-tU

World Homeless Day Podcast, 10th October 2022

Central London Catholic Churches guest, Richard Jackson, talks to Jon Kuhrt (left) and Mick Clarke (right) at the Homeless Panel at Farm Street Church on 28th March 2022

In March 2022, Westminster Justice & Peace together with Central London Catholic Churches hosted a panel discussion at Farm Street Church entitled ‘Homelessness and the Pandemic: what have we learnt?’

Six months on, we invited our speakers from that panel to record their thoughts on where we are at now, especially with respect to homelessness in London. Listen to the podcast here.

Listen to the podcast, recorded for World Homeless Day 2022


Colette Joyce – Westminster Justice & Peace Co-ordinator (Chair)
Mick Clarke – CEO, The Passage
Fr Dominic Robinson SJ – Parish Priest, Farm Street
Richard & Nick – Central London Catholic Churches Homeless Service
Jon Kuhrt – Specialist Rough Sleeping Adviser at Department for Levelling Up,
Housing & Communities

More Photos from Homelessness and the Pandemic Panel, 28th March 2022

Places still available on Caritas Westminster ‘Stepping Stones: Dignified Work Champions’ free online training programme for volunteers in outreach projects – starts Monday 16 May 2022, 10am-12noon

The Upper Room and Caritas Westminster are delighted to be working in partnership to deliver a new FREE online programme for volunteers in outreach projects interested to become Dignified Work Champions.  Called ‘Stepping Stones’, it will enable participants to learn how to address issues surrounding employability among people experiencing homelessness or hardship, and to take the lessons back to their parishes, schools and communities. 

The Upper Room has been working with people experiencing homelessness and other disadvantaged groups in West London for over 30 years. They will be working with volunteers to share their knowledge and experience to enable practical and meaningful interactions with beneficiaries. This will include common simple fixes, understanding the benefits system and Universal Credit, CV preparation and interview practice, establishing where you can access funding for training and vocational qualifications among a number of other topics. Throughout the course there will be peer support sessions to consolidate any learning and understand better what works in the real world.

Sessions will be delivered online each month over a period of 12 months and will include the chance to feedback and ask questions, and to lean on the experience of The Upper Room’s caseworkers.

The course will start on Monday16th May 2022 – 10am -12noon.

If you are interested in joining please email Meriel Woodward, Caritas Westminster Assistant Director: merielwoodward@rcdow.org.uk

Caritas Westminster

The Upper Room

Homelessness and the Pandemic: What have we learnt? 28 March, 6.45-8.15pm. Farm Street Church

How have the churches responded to people sleeping rough or in insecure accommodation during the pandemic and what lessons have been learnt for the future?

Open to everyone with an interest in this area, from those who have participated in homelessness projects as staff, volunteers or guests to donors, advocates and clergy.

The event will also be recorded and available on the Westminster Justice and Peace website if you would like to catch up afterwards.

Please register your email address on the right hand-side panel and click ‘Follow’ if you wish to get notifications of website news and updates.

Join us for this live panel event at Farm Street Church or watch online

Watch on Livestream from Farm Street Church

Report from Shelter -Temporary accommodation the new social housing?

Fr Dominic Robinson, SJ, Parish Priest of Farm Street Church, Mayfair, and co-ordinator of the Central London Catholic Churches Homelessness Service

Source: ICN/Shelter/CLCC

Last week it was revealed that nearly 100,000 households in England are homeless and living in temporary accommodation. This includes more than 120,000 children.

Temporary accommodation is extremely insecure, often cramped, and poor quality. It’s also far from ‘temporary’ – with some families living in it for over a decade. And its very expensive – with most rents being paid to private landlords.

Hannah Rich, Senior Research Officer with Shelter writes: “Instead of spending billions on such poor-quality accommodation, which can be incredibly damaging to children, it’s clear what we should be doing. We should be investing in genuinely affordable, decent, permanent and well-regulated social housing.

This would help to truly level up the life chances for families right across the country. Not least as the growing cost of living crisis adds fuel to our housing emergency.

Temporary accommodation is the name given to the accommodation that is offered to people who seek help from their council because they are homeless. Councils have a legal duty to accommodate most homeless families until a suitable settled home is offered.

More than a quarter (27%) of these households are accommodated outside the local authority area they previously lived in because councils can’t find suitable accommodation locally. This can lead to long, tiring journeys to school and work and families becoming isolated from support networks. The number of households living in temporary accommodation is now approaching levels last seen in the mid-2000s. In the last 10 years alone it has increased by 96%.

As well as being insecure and unsuitable, temporary accommodation is also hugely costly. New figures show that councils in England spent £1.45 billion on the provision of temporary accommodation between April 2020 and March 2021.2 This cost is covered in part by housing benefit and people having to top up their rent.

The cost of providing temporary accommodation has increased by 18% in the last year alone and more than doubled (increased by 157%) in the last 10 years. This means that the cost of temporary accommodation has increased at a greater rate than the number of people living in temporary accommodation.

Of course, housing costs are likely to increase over time. However, this disproportionate increase in the cost of temporary accommodation can be explained, at least in part, by the lucrative market that has emerged in the last few years.

Our recent Cashing In report showed that councils procure most of their temporary accommodation from for-profit private providers, who are often unregulated. This hasn’t changed.

The majority of the £1.45 billion goes to private providers of temporary accommodation. At least £1.16 billion (80%) was spent on accommodation leased by councils and social landlords from private letting agents, landlords or companies. And this doesn’t even include temporary accommodation provided directly by private landlords.

More than a third (38%) of this money was spent on emergency homeless B&Bs – considered some of the least suitable places for families and children to live. Councils in England spent £444 million on this type of accommodation between April 2020 and March 2021.

Almost a fifth (18%) of the total spent on private providers was spent on nightly paid, privately managed accommodation. The amount spent on this type of temporary accommodation has increased by 64% in the last year alone.

This increase reflects a shift from longer-term leasing of private sector accommodation to the charging of expensive nightly rates. The use of this type of accommodation now accounts for a quarter of all temporary accommodation.”

Fr Dominic Robinson, Chair of Westminster Diocese Justice and Peace and Parish Priest at Farm Street Church which offers food and support to homeless people with Central London Catholic Churches (CLCC) commented: “At our service at Farm Street we are seeing more and more guests living in substandard temporary accommodation. This is not a solution to the growing homelessness problem. Our experience tells us we need to come together and develop a holistic approach ….. learning the lessons of the pandemic and building on the good work that has been done already.”


Central London Catholic Churches (CLCC) Homeless Services –  www.facebook.com/CLCCHomelessServices/

Shelter – https://england.shelter.org.uk/

Prince Charles reaches out to London homeless project

Feb 16th, 2022

Prince Charles meet volunteer Yasko Kurahachi
Prince Charles meets volunteer Yasko Kurahachi

Source: Independent Catholic News

The Prince of Wales’ recent visit to the ‘Metamorphosis’ Icon Exhibition at Farm Street Church was a particularly memorable occasion for those involved with the community homeless service based there. After seeing the exhibition and meeting artist Dr Irina Bradley, with her family, priests and parishioners, he particularly requested to meet them.

Formed at the beginning of the first Covid lockdown in March 2020, Central London Catholic Churches (CLCC) is a group of volunteers from several London churches responding to a need to serve and provide for the homeless. They began operating as a hub in Trafalgar Square, but are now based in Arrupe Hall next to the church – providing a cooked lunch for the homeless on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Yasko Kurahachi, president of Farm Street’s St Vincent de Paul Society, (who has earned Mayfair Times award for her work with the homeless) was one of the people who met the Prince. She told ICN: “He was charming. Very approachable. I told him about our soup run on Monday night. He wanted to know where we start and finish – many details. He was really concerned about what we do.”

Volunteer Ade said: “He was really interested in our work. I told him we provide a warm safe environment for people . Prince Charles wanted to know how many guests we have. There are up to 50 each time. I explained that we’re here Wednesdays and Saturdays. At 11.30 we serve tea and coffee. Between 12-2 there’s a hot meal. We also have a Christmas dinner.”

The meals served in Arrupe are provided by neighbouring Mayfair restaurants – and guests say, are of very good quality.

Nick who is a guest and helps organise the project said: “We had a general chat to begin with. I told him I was ex Navy reserve and that we had actually met before at the Centenary parade of the Royal Navy Reserve. He was taking the salute and we met afterwards. Prince Charles said he wanted to thank us all for our service to the country.

Nick said: “He’s very friendly, interested and easy to talk with. He really cares about the welfare of people who have served in the armed forces. I told him about another of our guests here who is actually a former Army medic. When you leave the armed forces it can very difficult. There are so many barriers to getting help. So much bureaucracy. If you lose your home it can be very difficult to get back on course.”

Next month, a panel discussion entitled: Homelessness and the Pandemic: What have we learnt? – hosted by Diocese Of Westminster Justice & Peace and Caritas, will take place at Farm Street Church. Speakers will be CLCC guests, Mick Clarke, CEO at The Passage; Jon Kuhrt, from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government; Parish priest Fr Dominic Robinson SJ, from CLCC and Liz Wills from Caritas Westminster.

Light refreshments will be served. There is need to book. Donations to homeless services welcome.

The event takes place on Monday, 28 March, from 6.45-8.15pm, at Farm Street Church, 114 Mount St, London W1K 3AH.
It will also be livestreamed at: www.farmstreet.org.uk

Ekklesia in Trafalgar Square

By Fr Dominic Robinson SJ, published in The Pastoral Review

Palm Sunday 2020. Normally for the Christian community a day of processions often in beautiful early spring sunshine, and with the joyous expectation of Holy Week. A day when our church would normally be full and we would be looking forward to the busiest week of the year. Not so in 2020. Churches under lockdown, the streets deserted, and a sombre eerie feel of anxiety about what was to come.

The start of the lockdown was, to say the least, such an unsettling time for our parishes. Priests with no people to meet, greet, serve. Parish communities scattered and finding a way to live out eucharistic faith at a time of communal fast. Like the first Christians after the first Easter Sunday locked in behind closed doors, finding ways to share their faith, pray together, and be a community of believers in a new way. The source and summit of that faith for us, the Mass, was celebrated together by clergy and faithful but with the barrier of a movie camera between us, even most poignantly and painfully on those days of the Easter Triduum when the entire parish community should be gathered as one.

And yet amidst all this trauma there was something else, altogether more tragic and desperate. Walking out into the deserted city it became clear there was another population who were being forgotten. As the Christian community prepared to celebrate Holy Week and Easter with what hope we could muster there was a huge number of homeless left on the streets of London. Here, it became clear, was the stark reality of central London under lockdown, beyond the threshold of our closed doors and not caught on anyone’s video camera. The usually teeming streets now a ghost town – shops, pubs, restaurants locked up and displaying stark notices along the lines of “closed until further notice on account of the pandemic” and, anticipating the worst, “no cash is held here”. All offices closed and no workers on the streets. And in the midst of this, in pockets around the city, the most desperate who, in the panic of the exodus had simply been left behind. This group had no family to lock down with, were without shelter as all the night shelters had closed, and without food as soup runs had had to stop for safety’s sake and there were no businesses or people to beg from. In addition no public toilets were open from King’s Cross Station to the north to Victoria in the south. A Council official I spoke to on the ‘phone described the scene on the Strand as Armageddon and a police officer advised anyone visiting there alone would be in great danger.

Amidst all this it was also clear that much was being done to address the issues by national and local government. March 29th, Palm Sunday for the Christian community, was the date by which all homeless left on the streets would be housed in hotels and bed and breakfasts. This was the “everyone in” policy which we might have heard referred to on the news. Very many homeless were indeed housed and this was one of the great achievements of this time. Many die-hard homeless in normal times refusing help, a substantial group of whom would have entrenched addiction and mental health issues, really flourished during this time as they were given the tender loving care they surely always needed. And yet, despite the partial, very partial, success, media can cloud reality, especially at a time of great panic when our psychology is programmed to survival and part of that is to believe things are better than they are. What we hear through the media, even if it is partly true and partly fake news, becomes the true narrative.

I think it is worth stopping to reflect on this phenomenon of twisted narrative if we are to begin to comprehend the homeless issue during COVID. Palm Sunday is a helpful connector. For the crowd on that first Palm Sunday are surely victim to this phenomenon of fake news. How else would their singing hosannas to their Messiah lead to “crucify him” within just five days? Governments and politicians have always been good at this and learnt how to present what is not quite true as the Gospel. There are surely many parts of the world today where that is true and in the Church indeed, one must add with shame, we have seen how the truth can be masked by power and we end up trusting the least trustworthy and most heinous. In the midst of this, recognising how we are all sinners not just personally but socially, as society, as Church, as the human race, we are called to a new integrity which is the greatest form of truth in an age of so much fake news. That is why I think Pope Francis is reminding us especially at this time we are called not just to contribute to society through what we do but we are called to take the reins and build a new future. This must be a future of justice which exposes the truth and builds a new society in which all in society are given the respect the human being deserves as made in God’s image, and especially those who are weakest, who are forgotten, who are left in the gutter and consigned to the abyss. It is for me why, as John Bird, the founder of The Big Issue, puts it, we are called not simply to give handouts but give a hand up.

If we are guided by such a vision, the response of the Catholic community along with other Christian denominations and faiths, and importantly working together with secular and governmental authorities and organisations, has the opportunity to be truly prophetic. For me this experience of helping to rescue the homeless, in the midst of a time of great crisis, a ‘kairos’ in the biblical sense, has turned our minds and hearts back to the raw demands of the Gospel. It has called us to begin to embrace the truth about ourselves and our identity as human beings made in God’s image who are part of wider society, and to embrace what the Church can be.

As soon as this crisis became evident our neighbouring parish St Patrick’s in Soho Square started feeding over 200 people a day. After a few weeks their resources were running low. Food was running out. Two large hotels in our parish stepped in straight away. While already housing and feeding NHS staff they volunteered to provide 200 meals twice a day for three months completely free. Our main managerial contact at the hotels is a Hindu but it was that common belief in what was just and true to our common calling which led him to make the offer. Soon we were using our knowledge of the local hospitality trade to work together with the authorities. In Soho Square there were significant antisocial behaviour complaints from neighbours, not surprisingly for a homeless population who had nowhere to go and where the nearest public toilets were two miles’ walk away. Westminster City Council asked us to help so we assembled a large team of volunteers from Farm Street and neighbouring Catholic parishes to service a new refreshments and pastoral care hub for the homeless in Trafalgar Square and this became the central mission of our parish and those parishes working with us for the time of the pandemic. The project has evolved into a homeless service under the name of Central London Catholic Churches as part of Westminster Diocesan Caritas.

Some have asked why the Church should be involved in this when it is really the job of the local authorities and national government? It is often framed as part of a larger question of why the Church should be involved in politics, or be involved in the real world, or have a mission. The answer relates to how we view our faith in Christ. For me the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius teach me to find Christ and my calling right in the heart of the now. This is simply the call of the Gospel. Christ is not to be found just within ourselves nor in our future hope but he is the hope of the world in the facts of everyday life. Our mission is in the present, in the midst of the battle between good and evil right now, under our noses as we are led to uncover the truth and discern what must be done to build that future now. This is a vital part of the role of the Church too who, as the Holy Father reminds us so often, simply would not exist if she did not have a mission in the heart of the world. So our mission to the homeless has been the only response the Church could give, taking account of the facts and knowing our calling as Church. And only the Church, acting as Church and not an NGO or any other organisation, could do this.

That mission has had various dimensions but I would highlight three of them. Firstly, and in common with so many secular homeless charities, we provide both material and pastoral care. This material help needs to be well discerned. The homeless need food and shelter but they also need advice on finding a job, so they need clothing and they need to be clean so need shower facilities. So, discerning the material need, our service has moved into a more personal holistic model.

The holistic model must involve one-to-one personal care. If we believe the essence of the Church’s work of charity is to respect the dignity of every human person, and especially the most vulnerable, our service of the weakest wants to develop a relationship with each individual. This human care is why the “everyone in” scheme was successful for those who were given the opportunity to stay in the hotels and B&Bs. In Trafalgar Square our wonderful team of volunteers would get to know the guests and there we touch that belief in the dignity of the human person in reality. We realise that this woman or man in the queue for food could have been me with just a few wrong turns. Everyone has a story. Relationships have broken down, finance has run out, jobs lost, mental health issues set in. And this is the person in front of us. This is Christ in front of us. And we are called to show that person how much they are loved, how much they are worth.

Secondly, again in common with many homeless services, we have a duty to work with the local authorities and to hold them to account. As Church we have the duty to advocate for these individuals individually and as society. Here the Church cannot but be involved in politics but must be aware that her role must never take on the role of party politics. Looking at the facts and advocating for a just future is very much the Church’s role as we represent our flock and take our place confidently in society. During the pandemic we got to know so many homeless still on the streets, heard their stories, and realised that the “everyone in” scheme was not for everyone. And after a certain time there was a risk that, unless there was pressure from those working with the homeless, “everyone in” would turn very quickly to “everyone out”. In addition we were meeting more and more new homeless, women and men in their 20s and 30s who had lost their jobs and were destitute.

We discovered that many on the streets, and many who were in danger of being evicted from temporary accommodation, at a time of great public health risk, had no recourse to public funds, often due to unsettled immigration status. It was our duty to show our support for them not just through handouts but by campaigning for a temporary reprieve for those in this category. This is not an issue to be used as a political football but is an issue of profound importance to the Christian who, at this extraordinary time of crisis, needs to put aside political views on benefit eligibility and immigration and show the human being in the midst of this the dignity they deserve.

Thirdly the Church has given something very distinctive to our service of the homeless at this time, as she does in all of our work in this sector. All that we have been doing is also a work of evangelisation through which all of us, volunteers and guests, grow in faith. There was one day when we had a large queue in Trafalgar Square. Because the volunteers had built up a very good relationship with the regular guests, they were chatting quite freely, getting to know them. And a guest was having some rosary beads he had requested blessed. Then some more guests got interested in this and started talking with us about the rosary and about faith. So you realized there was that connection being made between the Church and the Catholic faith and this charitable work. That was really quite inspiring to experience.

It’s also been wonderful to see the great generosity of our volunteers. This is what they needed to do to practise their faith at this time. Many parishioners have found this a very traumatic time for all sorts of reasons. I have heard much too about how we have been “starved of the Eucharist”. For all the good the livestreaming has done it is not a substitute for being gathered physically as ‘ekklesia’, as Church. And yet our volunteers gathered five times a week in the heart of the city and lived the Eucharist in such a powerful way. This was not just where the Church found a place to do charitable work as something to do during the lockdown. No, Trafalgar Square was where the Church, the ‘ekklesia’, was, and where the multitude was fed, welcomed to the sheepfold and tended.

So what can we do going forward? I would suggest three concrete things. Firstly, we must pray for the homeless and all involved in this – local and national government, NGOs, the Church and other faith groups’ services.

Secondly, we must raise awareness and find accurate information about what’s going on amid fake news and fuzzy statistics.

Thirdly, we really must learn from this dreadful time. We need to keep advocating for this most vulnerable group of people, and we need to keep our message Gospel inspired, hopeful, and in robust dialogue with those who have tough decisions to make on the issues. In doing so we must never forget above all that those we serve are human beings made in God’s image who could very easily be you or me.

Fr Dominic Robinson SJ is Parish Priest, at Farm Street Church of the Immaculate Conception and Chair, Justice & Peace Commission, Diocese of Westminster. This article was first published in the Pastoral Review and is republished here with permission.


Farm Street Church – www.farmstreet.org.uk/

The Pastoral Review – www.thepastoralreview.org/

Housing and Homelessness Media Statement

Homeless Jesus, Farm Street Jesuit Church, Mayfair, London, UK

Fr Dominic Robinson SJ, Parish Priest of Farm Street and Chair of the Justice and Peace Commission said, “During the pandemic Central London Catholic Churches Homeless Services have worked with other faith groups, agencies, hospitality businesses and Westminster City Council to feed and provide showers, clothing and human care for some 300 homeless left on the streets of London.”

Colette Joyce, Co-ordinator of the Justice and Peace Commission, commented, “We are very concerned that, while there was a real success story at the beginning of lockdown with about 90% of homeless people given a temporary hotel place, as this crisis continues to unfold, we are witnessing more and more new destitute on the streets who are losing jobs, livelihoods and homes as a direct result of the pandemic. With night shelters closed, day centres and public services operating greatly reduced services, we are seeing the beginnings of a new underclass who, through no fault of their own, find themselves without a safety net in their hour of need.”

Fr Dominic added, “With the lifting of the ban on evictions from rented property, the end of the furlough scheme, and no move from national government on giving a reprieve to those with no recourse to public funds, the numbers of homeless on the streets and on the fragile line between just managing and destitution will get worse and worse.  It promises to be a huge humanitarian crisis on a grand scale.  Everybody wants to end rough sleeping forever – homeless agencies, faith groups, local authorities – and the united effort over the summer has shown we can work well together and find solutions.” 

Charities, such as Shelter, have taken steps this week to update their services with advice and guidance for those who now face eviction or have become newly homeless, but the support available is limited.

The Jesuit Refugee Service is calling attention, in particular, to the plight of thousands of people recently refused asylum who are now facing evictions from Home Office accommodation (as reported in The Guardian on 19/08/20). Evictions were paused in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Evictions recommence at the same time as the government is discussing fresh lockdown measures due to a rise in COVID-19 cases.

Sarah Teather, JRS UK’s director, said: “Manufactured homelessness should never be considered an acceptable tool of immigration enforcement, and it is deeply troubling that anyone should face renewed homelessness in the middle of a global pandemic.”

With the possibility of a second lockdown looming in some form, we continue to call for a temporary reprieve for the duration of the pandemic from the no recourse to public funds rules so that Councils, housing associations and charities can respond to all those who present as homeless. We further urge an immediate halt to the evictions of asylum seekers from hostels who have nowhere else to go. The ban on evictions of other tenants should be reinstated immediately in the event of any increase of pandemic measures. With Citizens UK, we ask those with the power to do so to provide these concessions and to avert a further crisis which will overwhelm all who want to help. 

Everyone in society deserves to be treated with dignity and respect and we need to put policies in place so that together we can ensure this. 

Statement from the Jesuit Refugee Service

Statement from Citizens UK

Campaigning for Affordable Housing in East London – the Olympic Legacy

“Many long-standing Catholic members of The East London Citizens Organisation (TELCO) feature in a new film released this week, marking the eighth anniversary of London hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Staff and pupils from St Antony’s Primary School, Newham, St Bonaventure’s School, Forest Gate and St Stephen’s Manor Park, [in the Diocese of Brentwood], are among those highlighting the broken promises made in 2005, and call on policymakers to honour the pledges they made and work with them for a new deal on the Olympic Park.”

Full article: Independent Catholic News

This powerful short film also addresses the roots of the ‘affordable’ housing crisis and looks at the change of mindset that will be required to prioritise houses as homes for people rather than sources of profit.

The awarding of the 2012 Games to London promised much for communities but has not yet delivered. Now that the Tokyo Games have been pushed forward to 2021, we have given another year to reflect on the legacy of our own Games and another opportunity to create a ‘new normal’ as we ‘build back better’ following our pandemic lockdown experience.

What lessons have we learnt?

Housing developing is resuming again around the Olympic site, as elsewhere in London and the rest of the UK, so there has never been time to campaign for the homes we truly need.