11th April 2017, words by Ed Walker
When we first met Hope into Action in 2015, its founder Ed Walker told us he wanted radically to change three systems. First, the homelessness and housing system: he wanted to increase the stock of housing available for people facing homelessness, making tenancies available so people didn’t get stuck in hostels. Secondly, the Church: he thought too few churches were using the skills and assets in their congregations to make social change. He wanted these to be unleashed, and for congregations to change their relationship with charity. Finally, investment markets: he wanted savings to be redirected out of stocks and shares which had no social benefit, and into houses that could provide homes for people in need.
So just a small task then…
Hope into Action remains committed to this radical vision, and they are achieving it. They have franchised their model and now communities based in churches across the UK are redirecting their savings, buying houses, and leasing these to people facing tough times who would otherwise be homeless. They are then using the skills of the congregation to surround the tenant with a supportive community, helping tenants through periods of transition.
Last week, Hope into Action held its annual conference for its partners. Here is Ed’s reflection from the day:
“It is hard to put in words the feelings that such a day conjured up, nor to do justice to the atmosphere it created, but here goes:
We had 250 people attend the conference (our record) coming from as far west as Dartmouth, south as Isle of Wight, as far East as Ipswich and as far North as Sunderland.
Our aim for the day was to inspire and equip churches and others into this sort of work. I think it also served to inspire staff – a chance for them to get out of the grind of the office and hear the impact of our work through some amazing testimonies.
We define success as this: church volunteers, out of their pews, engaging with our tenants and our tenants feeling loved. When our tenants feel loved we have succeeded and both parties gain and grow.
So we want mutuality in our relationships because we want to see every tenant as our equal, precious with innate in-diminishable worth and talents and strengths and gifts. We reflect that by trying to: welcome rather than judge; listen to rather than speak at; focus on strengths rather than needs or risks; give responsibility, choice and power rather than support, charity and hand-outs.
We follow Christ, himself homeless and a refugee, who urges us to get out: ‘to go to the other side’. ’To not hold on but to go’. And so we see Jesus frequently juxtapositioned between the powerful and religious on the one hand and those on the outside. Those on the outside won every time! And so the gospels scream at us to leave the comfort of our cosy church crowds.
Over the day we heard from many of our tenants and former tenants. They shared their experiences of working with Hope into Action and also ran seminars to build understanding of their lived experience. We believe listening to our tenants is so important both for us and for them. We have to walk together through the mess, not wait for someone experiencing homelessness or addictions to “sort it out” before we welcome and engage them. Churches need to show people that they are loved and precious now, in the midst of their mess.
Later, we were joined by former MP Jonathan Aitkens who spoke movingly and with humility, humour and insight into homelessness and the issue of being released from prison without having a home, reflecting on the fear and anxiety this causes.
The day ended with awards for tenants, nominated by their communities. This was perhaps the most moving part of the day as tenants, so often rejected by society, had a moment where they were applauded, recognized, honoured for what they had done.
Steve Clifford, General Secretary of the Evangelical Alliance, giving a certificate to our tenants.
In the words of one of our former tenants:
I just wanted to write a quick note to say thank you.
Thank you for setting up Hope into Action.
Thank you for having me come and share a bit today, it really was an honour to give back a little bit of what has been given to me.
And thank you, along with your team for organising today – I know it was probably a stressful nightmare at times trying to get everything to come together! But I felt really emotional standing up there, looking out at all those people, and seeing a room full of people who genuinely love and care for people like me, for people who society generally rejects. It makes me feel really proud and privileged to be connected to a group of people who want to walk along side some of the messiest people and love them any way they can.
So thank you, and keep up the good work.” Anonymous