Rachel Lampard reports on the importance of Homelessness Sunday, this weekend
ASTHE Government begins to examine ways to tackle social xclusion, thousands of Christians this weekend will be looking at how homelessness and bad housing are some of the major causes of social exclusion.
The fifth annual Homelessness Sunday, organised by CHAS (the Catholic Housing Aid Society) and the Churches National Housing Coalition, has as its theme Building a New Community. Churches across the country are marking the day with prayers, services, displays, workshops and activities to highlight within the Church and in the community the needs of homeless people. Special services are being held in places as diverse as Salford Cathedral and HMP Glen Parva Young Offenders Centre. A youth club in Dorking is holding a "sleep over" to raise money for a local night shelter, while shoppers in Thatcham will see a "cardboard city" built by local churches.
In Exeter, the mayor, councillors and local agencies are being invited to a civic service to acknowledge the need to tackle homelessness. Other churches will be taking the theme further through bible studies and house groups: Homelessness is still a serious problem. Last year around 2,000 families were accepted as homeless by local authorities each week. Many more remain uncounted. A quarter of a million young people are estimated to have experienced homelessness in a year. Almost a million and a half homes are judged to be unfit for human habitation.
Homeless Sunday comes at an appropriate time, shortly after the setting up of the Social Exclusion Unit, which will examine the prevention of poverty and other forms of exclusion. Tony Blair defined social exclusion as affecting "those people who do not have the means, material and otherwise, to participate in social, economic, political and cultural life."
Homelessness and bad hous
ing are significant causes, and effects, of social exclusion. Homeless people have difficulty in gaining access to heathcare or employment. Without a fixed address they cannot vote. Children of homeless families have their education disrupted as they move around. Households living in bad quality, cramped accommodation develop respiratory problems. The mother living in a tower block with unreliable lifts is effectively excluded from the community around her.
Christian Churches have a long history of caring for homeless people through setting up day centres or soup runs, or supporting organisations such as CHAS, which provided housing advice to anyone who is homeless or badly housed.
But homelessness does not only harm individuals. It damages our whole society, as people are prevented from realising their God-given potential. Through the theme of Homelessness Sunday, Building a New Community, Churches will be looking at what inclusion in community means. Homelessness Sunday gives an opportunity to support the work already being done. But by marking the day Churches are also showing that no one should be excluded from God's community.
• Rachel Lampard is the Policy and Information Officer at CHAS