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31 May, Going Viral LXXVIII: with homeless people in Canterbury

CATCHING LIVES WINTER PROVISION

REPORT 2020/2021

Catching Lives is the agency that looks out for homeless people in Canterbury. One of their projects is to provide winter shelter and support for those living on the streets. It has been clear this winter that some choose not to come in from the cold, but for those that do so, some impressive help has been given. This is the report on their work this winter.

INTRODUCTION


During the winter of 2020/21 Catching Lives worked alongside other agencies, such as Canterbury City Council to offer a form of emergency accommodation under Winter Provision to as many rough sleepers as possible, giving opportunities to work with such individuals to try and find more permanent housing options for those who wanted it. The Covid-19 pandemic meant that this winter we were unable to operate our usual Canterbury Community Shelter, as clients staying would have been sleeping in a church hall, sharing the airspace, and therefore at risk of catching and spreading the covid-19 virus.

We explained to Canterbury City Council at an early stage that we would not have the funds to secure a venue at which all those staying would have their own rooms.The outcome was that Canterbury City Council were able to negotiate a licence to occupy all the rooms at the Youth Hostels Association (YHA) building on New Dover Road from 14th
December 2020 to 27th February 2021, meaning that 17 rooms were available for rough sleepers to occupy. This included their own shower and toilet facilities so they did not have to share with anyone else.

Assessments for rooms were carried out by Catching Lives Project Workers at the Canterbury Open Day Centre on Station Road East. Those allocated a room were able to keep it until they either found other suitable accommodation to move into, or had to leave due to serious behavioural issues that would have put the safety of others at risk. The YHA was staffed by two catching Lives Project Workers in the evening, who welcomed the clients in and provided them with evening meals prepared by Catching Lives volunteers earlier in the day. Two staff members were on duty overnight (one Catching Lives Project Worker and one Serveco staff member). As with previous winters, the funding for the Catching Lives staff members came from usual sources, namely generous donations from Charitable Trusts and individuals within our community.

Those staying in the YHA could access from 5pm and had to leave at 8am the following morning. They were provided breakfast and lunch, and access to other facilities such as phone, computer and washing machine use, at the Day Centre every day of the week. Art and activity packs were put together by Catching Lives’ Art Coordinator Miriam Ellis, with the support of local artists, for those staying to do in their rooms. Catching Lives Project Workers, and Outreach
Workers operating under Canterbury City Councils’ Rough Sleeper Initiative, provided ongoing support to help clients take steps towards finding housing.

This included, but is by no means limited to, help registering with a GP, referrals to mental health services, looking for work, applying for benefits, referrals for supported accommodation and signposting to the adult drug and alcohol support service run by Forward Trust.

As well as the rooms available at the YHA, Canterbury City Council also offered people temporary placement in a variety of B&Bs, hotels and shared houses (both in and outside of Canterbury). The decision whether to offer one of these locations instead of a room at the YHA involved several factors such as their level of support needs, including physical and mental health considerations. Those placed out of area were supported by the outreach workers, including two taken on by Catching Lives on a temporary contract funded by the MHCLG Winter Transformation Fund.

As always we would like to thank our local community for supporting us by donating items such as money, food and clothing, and also to those who organised fundraising events for us. We’d also like to thank all our volunteers, such as those who prepare meals for clients at the centre, and our bookshop volunteers who bring in a substantial income whilst also spreading much needed awareness of our work, for their valuable donation of their time. This is especially the case over the last year as we are aware that many of our supporters have been effected by the pandemic themselves yet have still been able to show us such tremendous support. Thank you also to all staff at the Youth Hostels Association for use of their building, and for their cooperation in making this particular part of the local winter provision possible.
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Catching Lives staff

Terry Gore – General Manager
Maria Summerson- Catching Lives Winter Provision Coordinator
Graeme Solly – Project Leader
Charlotte Hill- YHA Project Worker
Davinia Downey- YHA Project Worker
Gill Key- YHA Project Worker
Iwona Waligora – YHA Project Worker
Niki Reynolds- YHA Project Worker
Richard Hopker – YHA Project Worker
Zo Defferay- YHA Project Worker
Emma McCrudden – Outreach Worker
Megan Johnson- Outreach Worker
Paul Wardell- Outreach Worker
Dorota Witczak – Project Worker
Paul Todd – Project Worker/ YHA on call
Stephanie Hagen- Mentoring Coordinator/ Project Worker
James Duff- YHA on call/ Trustee/ volunteer
Miriam Ellis – Arts Coordinator
Karen Baxter – Mental Health Outreach
Denis Tweedie – Mental Health Outreach
Luana Ali – Client Data Coordinator
Simon Rice- Volunteer Coordinator
Paul Willoughby – Administrator
Michael James- Fundraiser

Comparison statistics
During winter provision:
27 different people stayed in the YHA for at least one night, with an average of 7 staying per night.
14 people in B&Bs were supported by Catching Lives

Why were people homeless?
Relationship breakdown 9
Loss of work/ moved for work 6
Eviction- Antisocial behaviour 10
Sale of family home 1
Issues with other tenants 3

Feeling domestic abuse 3

Eviction- could afford rent 2
Release from prison 4
Discharge from hospital 1
Passed tenancy to relative 1
Unsure 1


ACCOMMODATION OUTCOMES (as of 20/03/2021)
YHA
3 moved into private rented accommodation
2 moved into Porchlight supported accommodation
2 placed in further Winter Provision temporary accommodation by Canterbury City Council in Canterbury
7 placed in further Winter Provision temporary accommodation by Canterbury City Council outside of Canterbury
1 refused further temporary accommodation due to it being out of area and returned to rough sleeping
1 refused temporary accommodation due to it being out of area and currently sofa surfing
4 rough sleeping. Unable to contact to offer accommodation
1 sofa surfing. No offer of temporary accommodation made
5 unknown. Loss of contact.
1 in prison or custody
B&Bs
3 moved into private rented accommodation
7 remain in winter provision outside of Canterbury
4 currently sofa surfing

All clients in the B&Bs were registered with a GP; this may be because more of the clients staying in the YHA were newly arrived foreign nationals who had yet to make contact with local health services.

ANALYSIS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
In contrast to the conditions at the rolling night shelter, clients at the YHA had their own room, including their own bed; shower; and toilet. There were several positive outcomes of this, which are summarised below.
In the rolling night shelter there have been issues with clients snoring; clients have informed us that they do not want to access the rolling night shelter because their sleep is disturbed by others snoring, or making other noises during the night. Conversely, some clients have chosen not to stay at the night shelter as they themselves snore and have experienced hostility from others as a result of this. The benefit of better sleep extends beyond the night-time and reaches into other aspects of clients’ lives. Crucially, better rested and safer feeling clients are better able to access support in the Day Centre. Further, some clients are working, or seeking work, and find the conditions in the rolling night shelter unconducive to securing, or maintaining, an employment position.

The sex aspects of homelessness wherein more males than females present as rough sleepers, means that the number of female clients accessing previous rolling night shelter provision has been consistently small. On occasion, the rolling night shelter provision has seen one female sleeping in a communal area with up to nineteen male clients. Thus, for females, the communal nature of the rolling night shelter has constituted a very real barrier to their accessing the provision. One female client who had terminated her place at the rolling night shelter the year before, as the communal arrangements had escalated her anxiety to an intolerable degree, told us, “I’d rather sleep in my car”. For her, the YHA provided a safe and accessible space, in which her only objection was the lack of a TV in the private rooms, as this would have provided something for clients to occupy themselves with in the evening. The importance of developing sensitive policy responses to women’s homelessness has become a central theme in the recent research literature on homelessness, therefore these aspects of accessibility in relation to the rolling night shelter deserve further consideration.

In addition to these factors, clients often present with a history of complex childhood abuse and trauma and therefore, may feel disinclined to share a small space with other rough sleepers. Both clients and staff felt that the conditions in the YHA were more dignified than with the rolling night shelter. Staff observed that for many clients, this may be the first time in a long period that they had slept in their own private room: the YHA “was ten times more dignified than clients sleeping on a cramped floor, often within a foot’s reach of each other.” One Project Worker observed that the pandemic meant that socialising with the clients was reduced and it was “a lonely experience” for both clients – who are the main concern – and also for Project Workers. Another commented that it would have worked better if the overnight workers could have begun earlier, at 9pm, for instance, so that they could spend time with the residents, getting to know them, “making them a last drink or something to eat. You don’t see anyone until the morning when it’s all rushed and you’re rushing them through the door”. This arrangement, “would benefit clients as it would give them extra human beings to talk to”.


Other key Points are:
The task of managing and resolving conflict was enhanced as people had their own private spaces to withdraw to in the event of disagreements, or arguments.
Having a centralised location meant that bedding did not need to be transported daily therefore this aspect of the night shelter provision was less labour intensive than is usually the case.
We must continue to ensure all rough-sleepers are fully aware of the winter shelter and how it operates to hopefully allieviate any concerns some may have about accessing it.
To ensure ongoing training in how to de-escalate conflict is provided for Project Workers and staff from outside agencies who are to be involved in facilitating the night shelter, to make sure all boundaries all clear and maintained consistently.
If winter provision is carried out as a partnership in future years it is vital that all services are aware of how the referral procedure, and access arrangements work, including Out of Hours Canterbury City Council, so that communication is swift and clear.
Some staff at Catching Lives reported difficulties in communication with Canterbury City Council: “the council were frequently unresponsive to emails or phone calls, and generally did not respond in a timely way. When this happened, it impacted on our ability to provide the highest level of support for our clients.”
For Project Workers to be provided with a synopsis of each client – their current circumstance, history, if known, and particular needs – in particular, for those working on the overnight shift.

Catching Lives are incredibly grateful to the Churches who have demonstrated huge generosity in providing use of their halls during previous winter night shelters, and also the volunteers who have supported people by providing activities and food preparation. The experience from both our own perspective and also our clients’ is that the model in which
they have their own self-contained rooms is beneficial for clients in the ways that we have discussed. An ideal scenario going forward would be to continue involving the community, providing volunteering opportunities where we can, as the support of our community is vital for us to be able to keep doing what we do, but to also secure an arrangement whereby it is possible for clients to be able to access their own room or space, which would be a better model for allowing a greater number of people to access the shelter, with or without a pandemic. We are keen to have discussions with the churches who have supported us in the past, and also Canterbury City Council in order to find a model for the coming winter that best meets the needs of our clients.

Feedback from clients


When clients were asked for feedback about what could have been better with the provision, one central theme emerged. This is that the YHA could have been opened in the day for clients to use, “it was pukka, but the only thing was that they kicked you out between 7-8am and you couldn’t go back until 5pm”. This same client pointed out that if a
client presented with a temperature, they would be barred from accessing the provision due to the pandemic, but that “you’re [clients are] more likely to catch a cold outside in cold and freezing temperatures”.
Other comments echoed this: “I wish it was open longer”. Given that places such as cafes, and the library had to remain closed, in very cold weather of snow and ice clients struggled to find dry places to sit down whilst waiting to return to the YHA in the evening. For clients who were self-sufficient with an income, the situation was slightly more manageable. For one weekend clients were able to stay at the YHA during the day, and we would like to express gratitude that the Council and the YHA enabled this. Moving forward, we would like to extend this arrangement across the entire period within which the night shelter operates.

Generally, feedback from clients about the YHA was positive, with comments such as “it was better than what he had before”; and “it was very good”. A few clients expressed appreciation that their views on the provision were being sought. Other feedback includes, “staff were helpful”; and “it was good that it gave me structure to my day”.

Feedback from Project Workers


A couple of Project Workers highlighted the importance of clear and consistent communication from the outset, from both Catching Lives and Canterbury City Council. Generally, feedback was positive, with one Project Worker commenting that the night shelter, “was brilliantly run by Catching Lives” and that staff at the day centre were
“knowledgeable about almost everything I needed to know for the job”. The benefits of positive teamwork amongst the Project Workers were also highlighted with one worker stating that, “I think we pulled together well when we needed to […] covering sickness, etc.!”


Case study of a client’s experience of winter provision


-written by Megan Johnson, Project Worker supporting clients in B&B’s

Usually during the winter months churches open their doors and provide overnight shelter for people with no home to go to. The need for social distancing during the pandemic means this has not been a viable option this winter. The government issued funding to enable local authorities to address this and provide emergency winter provision.
Canterbury City Council has done so by accommodating people in hostels, B&Bs and studio flats. In some cases people could stay only overnight , in others, they could stay 24/7. For those provided with a room available day and night, they have had a time of relative security and stability, this has laid the ground for people to cope better with the challenges they face, engage consistently with our support and potentially change their situation of homelessness. Thanks to additional government COVID19 funding Catching Lives has been able to temporarily employ additional staff and spend more one-on-one time building relationships and supporting clients to progress with their recovery.

One notable example of this is a woman who lost her cleaning job due to COVID19, with the stress of being unable to pay her rent and the rampant fear during the height of the pandemic, she experienced a mental health breakdown. English not being her first language she didn’t know who she could reach out to or what statutory support was available and she ended up sleeping on the streets for several months. Canterbury City Council accommodated her in a B&B and Catching Lives have been working with her for several months now. We have been able to support her to make a successful application for the Right to Remain in the UK, a new requirement due to Brexit. Not only did this mean she could access public funds, it was a huge relief for her to know that she will be able to stay in the UK where her grown up children are living.
We accompanied and supported her for an assessment with her Mental Health Social Worker and they found that her mental health had improved significantly since the previous summer when she had been hospitalised several times. They agreed she was fit to work and so we supported her to prepare a CV and start applying for jobs, which she was
able to do from her accommodation using her mobile and the wifi of the B&B. We began searching for private rented accommodation, she wanted to stay in Canterbury where she has lived for the last seven years. During our house search a potential landlord who couldn’t offer a room but was highly empathetic to her situation gave us a lead on a
cleaning job. We contacted their recommendation and she was offered work to start once she was living back in Canterbury. Within a week we had found a room in a shared house where she felt safe and welcome. We successfully applied for a grant from the Vicar’s Relief Fund to help her pay her deposit and first months’ rent. Though happy to offer a room, the new landlord wanted ideally to see a contract of employment first. We hurriedly arranged a trial shift at the cleaning company and provided transport to and from her first day in her new job. She worked hard and successfully secured a contract which we were able to show to the landlord and we helped her move in to her new home a few days later.
Things are slowly getting back on track and for the first time in a long time, she is starting to think about the future and building the life she hopes for. We have been supporting her to improve her English with a free online English Language course so that she will be able to apply for a variety of different roles in the future and we remain her first port of call if
anything starts to go wrong.
Without the safety and stability of a room available to her 24/7, things might have turned out differently. The emergency winter provision has provided many of the homeless people we are supporting a safe place to rest, and also a base from which they can take the first steps towards recovery.

THANK YOU


Thank you to all those who provided financial donations towards our Winter Provision, and
thank you to all our volunteers and other members of the community who have supported
us, not just during the winter but for the duration of the time we have spent in lockdown,
including everyone at St Paul’s church for the generous weekly food donations that were
dropped off for those staying at the YHA which were gratefully received!
Thank you also to all of our staff members, for pulling together and really making a
difference.


FINANCIAL STATEMENT


INCOME EXPENDITURE
DONATIONS £45,000.00 SALARIES £44,946.80
GRANTS £22,921.00 NTS £79 PURCHASES £201.81
STAFF EXPENSES £686.41
CLIENT EXPENSES £249.49
INCOME TOTAL £67, 921.00 EXPENDITURE TOTAL £47,645.02

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26 May: Resolution in Sussex

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Image details.

Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, Oh Lord of Hosts, my King and my God. Psalm 84:3.

This is a text that should speak to the heart of any worshipper, we should surely rejoice that the birds of the air should feel at home in God’s place. I’m always happy to find that sparrows, robins or bluetits are living in our place, sparrows in the eaves, other birds in the hedge, blackbirds on top of the box put up for bluetits. You’ll see why I could not resist sharing this little story. I am inclined to believe it happened in a cast iron Royal Mail box, like the one below, rather than a private householder’s gatebox, as shown above. WT.

Rowfant [a small village in Sussex] was once the scene of one of the most determined struggles in history. The contestants were a series of Titmice and the G.P.O., and the account of the war may be read in the Natural History Museum at South Kensington:—

In 1888, a pair of the Great Titmouse (Parus major) began to build their nest in the post-box which stood in the road at Rowfant, and into which letters, &c., were posted and taken out by the door daily. One of the birds was killed by a boy, and the nest was not finished. In 1889, a pair completed the nest, laid seven eggs, and began to sit; but one day, when an unusual number of post-cards were dropped into, and nearly filled, the box, the birds deserted the nest, which was afterwards removed with the eggs. In 1890, a pair built a new nest and laid seven eggs, and reared a brood of five young, although the letters posted were often found lying on the back of the sitting bird, which never left the nest when the door of the box was opened to take out the letters. The birds went in and out by the slit.

From Highways and Byways in Sussex by E. V. Lucas.

Not this box, but probably one very like it.

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6 April: Gates IX, Let the King of Glory in.

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Another gate: they are as important as meeting places after Easter as before! This one is in Canterbury, and leads from former Ministry of Defence (War Department – WD on the boundary stone) land towards a housing estate where hundreds of ordinary decent people live. Our friend Pamela lived nearby for much of her life. This was a planned station (stopping place) for the 2020 Walking Pilgrimage that never happened, but still, may the King of Glory enter into this corner of his Kingdom this Easter!

Lift up your heads, O gates! 
And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle!
Lift up your heads, O gates!
And lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory!

Psalm 24 : 7-10

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24 March: Alfred at Heaven’s gate; Gates VII.

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The Alfred Jewel by Mkooiman, CC BY-SA 4.0

In this extract from Chesterton’s Ballad of the White Horse, King Alfred (r 871-899) is facing defeat at the hands of pagan Vikings and the loss of his Kingdom of Wessex, England. He prayed and received a vision of Mary, mother of Jesus, ‘Our Lady’. Two more extracts follow as part of our Gates series.

          Fearfully plain the flowers grew,
          Like the child's book to read,
          Or like a friend's face seen in a glass;
          He looked; and there Our Lady was,
          She stood and stroked the tall live grass
          As a man strokes his steed.

          Her face was like an open word
          When brave men speak and choose,
          The very colours of her coat
          Were better than good news.

          She spoke not, nor turned not,
          Nor any sign she cast,
          Only she stood up straight and free,
          Between the flowers in Athelney,
          And the river running past.

          One dim ancestral jewel hung
          On his ruined armour grey,
          He rent and cast it at her feet:
          Where, after centuries, with slow feet,
          Men came from hall and school and street
          And found it where it lay.

          "Mother of God," the wanderer said,
          "I am but a common king,
          Nor will I ask what saints may ask,
          To see a secret thing.

          "The gates of heaven are fearful gates
          Worse than the gates of hell;
          Not I would break the splendours barred
          Or seek to know the thing they guard,
          Which is too good to tell.

          "But for this earth most pitiful,
          This little land I know,
          If that which is for ever is,
          Or if our hearts shall break with bliss,
          Seeing the stranger go?

          "When our last bow is broken, Queen,
          And our last javelin cast,
          Under some sad, green evening sky,
          Holding a ruined cross on high,
          Under warm westland grass to lie,
          Shall we come home at last?"

This should not be read as a chauvinist or xenophobic text: two of Alfred's generals were Mark, a Roman still living in Wessex, and the Welshman Colan. And Alfred defeats the Danish invaders, but also converts them to Christianity and comes to a peace settlement with them. But that is in the future that he cannot see. Part of Mary's answer runs:
          "I tell you naught for your comfort,
          Yea, naught for your desire,
          Save that the sky grows darker yet
          And the sea rises higher."

Suffering, despair, fear are the gate to 'home at last'. 

                                                                      Read more about the Alfred Jewel, mentioned in the 4th verse here.


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Eco Tip XIX – Fantastic refillables.

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Many laundry detergents contain loads of microplastics that ultimately end up in the ocean and negatively affect marine life. Even more so, the bottles are either incinerated or dumped in a landfill where they can take up to 500 years to decompose!

https://www.splosh.com/refills

https://smolproducts.com – we use this one for dishwasher and laundry and found it excellent – and gets delivered to the door, and all plastic free, and very competitively priced, Rev. Jo

A job that is never done!

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Going Viral LXVI: Virus and Vaccination at Lichfield Cathedral.

This links to an article by the Dean of Lichfield, Rev Adrian Dorber. Lichfield was the first cathedral to host a mass vaccination centre. Dean Adrian begins:

Dear Friends,

I was asked to write the following piece for a daily newspaper.  Whether it gets printed, or it is mangled into something unrecognisable by sub-editors, is beyond my control, but I thought you might like to see the article.  Here it is:

Last week the UK death toll from Covid-19 crossed the 100,000 mark: a grim milestone in our reckoning with the impact of the virus.  The swathe of bereavement the virus brings is terrible.  The mental and spiritual desolation of 2020 has shown us the fault lines in the way the world is currently ordered: pointing us to the inescapable truth of our relatedness and obligations to each other.  One charity dealing with bereavement has predicted a “tsunami of unresolved grief” that will take a long time to heal.   Compound the death rate with the anxiety, stress and isolation lockdown and home-schooling have brought, to say nothing of lost jobs, business closures and a contracting economy, then we are right to welcome the NHS’s vaccination roll-out.

The link above will take you to the whole interesting article.

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23 December: The Apartment House

Modern apartment blocks in Berlin – and a section of the cruel Berlin Wall.

Severe against the pleasant arc of sky
The great stone box is cruelly displayed.
The street becomes more dreary from its shade,
And vagrant breezes touch its walls and die.
Here sullen convicts in their chains might lie,
Or slaves toil dumbly at some dreary trade.
How worse than folly is their labor made
Who cleft the rocks that this might rise on high!

On the top floor of this block someone had hung Christmas lights on Advent Eve.


 Yet, as I look, I see a woman’s face
Gleam from a window far above the street.
This is a house of homes, a sacred place,
By human passion made divinely sweet.
How all the building thrills with sudden grace
Beneath the magic of Love’s golden feet!

From “Trees and Other Poems” by Joyce Kilmer

And a cave at Bethlehem became a sacred place, By human passion made divinely sweet. May love’s feet dance in your home this Christmas.

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21 December: The night train

I was looking for more poetry (What you might call ‘free verse’!) to read on my Kindle. Since we’ve used Joyce Kilmer a couple of times, I thought I’d look at some of his writing. This poem, The Twelve-forty-five seems appropriate coming up to Christmas. There were no motor cars on the road then, so people depended on the night train to get home late. Let’s pray for all travellers this Christmas, for those who would like to travel but cannot, and for all who will be apart when they would be together if they could; for those who have died and those left behind: the stars – the angels – are watchful over them.

Will.

Upon my crimson cushioned seat,
In manufactured light and heat,
I feel unnatural and mean.
Outside the towns are cool and clean;
Curtained awhile from sound and sight
They take God’s gracious gift of night.
The stars are watchful over them.
On Clifton as on Bethlehem
The angels, leaning down the sky,
Shed peace and gentle dreams. And I —
I ride, I blasphemously ride
Through all the silent countryside.

What Love commands the train fulfills,
And beautiful upon the hills
Are these our feet of burnished steel.
Subtly and certainly I feel
That Glen Rock welcomes us to her
And silent Ridgewood seems to stir
And smile, because she knows the train
Has brought her children back again.
We carry people home — and so
God speeds us, wheresoe’er we go.

The midnight train is slow and old
But of it let this thing be told,
To its high honor be it said
It carries people home to bed.
My cottage lamp shines white and clear.
God bless the train that brought me here.


(The Twelve-forty-five, from “Trees and Other Poems” by Joyce Kilmer)

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14 December: A problematic ministry.

Here’s sobering reading as we move into winter. Although there are more people homeless in town, Canterbury’s churches contribute to caring for them and moving them on in positive way, including through ‘Catching Lives’, a local charity, and, in past years, collaborating to provide the Night Shelter in different halls through the Winter. Some people are difficult to engage with, and sometimes a little more is needed than leaving it to the experts. From the Benefice Annual Report for Saints Dunstan, Mildred and Peter, regarding last winter.

We met with Toby Coburn of Kent Police regarding B, a homeless man, who had taken up long term residency in a tent in the Churchyard. After several warnings from the Rector about his behaviour, an eviction note was left for him by Toby who made it clear that the Churchyard was not appropriate for anyone who is homeless. He moved on without any trouble.

Prior to this, Amos, who had previously been camping in the Churchyard before finding accommodation, had worked hard to tidy up the Churchyard. Following B’s departure, he cleared all the rubbish left by B, he reseeded a large area, cut back the undergrowth and overgrowth, planted shrubs, cleared the ground gutters and removed weeds and ivy and set about maintaining the Churchyard in general whilst attending a horticultural course.

His presence also acts as a deterrent to anyone wishing to take up residence in the Churchyard although on the 19th November, a little tent was erected in the churchyard near the entrance and clearly visible. The occupant who was known to Catching Lives and the Street Pastor then moved to the back where the tent could not be seen from outside. Once the night shelter was operating, he was encouraged to vacate the Churchyard.

Unfortunately damage is done to the walls of the Churchyard by people climbing over to gain access. We are very grateful to Amos for all his hard work.

We continue to try to keep rough sleepers from camping in the Churchyard, particularly as it is easy for them to damage the walls by climbing over as this is the only way they can get into the Churchyard. We try to direct them to various organisations for their safety and well being.

Rachel Cameron and Revd Jo Richards

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10 December, Relics XXIX: Our Lady of Loreto

I wonder about this feast. This site is more than respectful of relics but angels carrying a house from Palestine to Italy? That does not move me to prayer.

Even, dare I say it, the chapel of the Portiuncula, where Saint Francis died, seemed lost in the basilica erected over and around it, and did not call me to my knees. Maybe I’d never make a Franciscan, and this site is more than respectful of Franciscans. And of Saint Francis.

It’s not just saints’ places that we value, and not just Christians that troop around palaces, or Gilbert White’s rectory, or the home of a teenaged Beatle to be, or even Dylan Thomas’s writing place overlooking the Estuary in Laugharne. We may not touch the exhibits or sit on the chair but we breathe in the air, sort of.

I doubt the authenticity of the site at the top of this blog, the reputed house of the Visitation, where Elizabeth welcomed Mary, who had come to be a home-help for her pregnant cousin. But the shrine is a reminder that this story is about two flesh and blood women and their flesh and blood sons. The statues show them about to burst into song and dance, which they surely did: Luke 39-56 is almost all poetry and song.

So today, let’s celebrate two real women who lived in real houses and raised real families. And may we heed Elizabeth’s son’s call to prepare the way for Mary’s son, however strange a Christmas we might be expecting.

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