Those who are homeless, both those who live on the streets and those who move from place to place, need active charity from Christians, Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster has said.
“A walk through these streets at night, or early morning will show what a problem this is,” the cardinal said, linking the response to homelessness to the Gospel imperative to show attention to those most in need.
He spoke Nov. 2 to the Caritas Social Action Network parliamentary reception.
The cardinal cited sustained increases in homelessness in the last six years, where at least 3,500 people in England and Wales sleep on the streets on the average night. Spending cutbacks on homelessness prevention and human services have strained charities.
In addition, there is the “hidden homelessness” of people who may have a job, but sleep on couches, spare rooms or bed and breakfasts because they have no home of their own. Some spend nights at different friends’ houses, or go to all-night parties to avoid sleeping on the street.
“We will be sitting next to such people on the tube and in our churches,” Cardinal Nichols said.
Preventing homelessness is a priority because it is difficult to stop its “vicious cycle.” For single men, family breakdown is a leading contributor to homelessness, and such a breakdown’s leading cause is financial difficulty.
“Then there is the scourge of drug and alcohol addiction,” the cardinal continued. “And of course, those without suitable accommodation upon release from prison are the most likely to find themselves on the streets, back in this vicious cycle.”
He praised the work of Catholic charities in aiding prisoners, providing shelters and improving family relationships. Diocese of Westminster volunteers work over 4 million hours each year.
“All over England and Wales, parishes and charities offer a range of support to people who are homeless: from extensive skills training, counselling, hostels and move-on accommodation, to simply offering a hot meal and clothing to those with nowhere else to turn,” the cardinal said.
“This is love in action, the corporal works of mercy, sharing the goods of one of the wealthiest societies on earth with those at its peripheries, the victims of economic and social systems which remain heartless unless enlivened by a sense of moral purpose and generosity.”
Such work is rooted in faith in God and in God’s grace to “raise our fallen nature to this steady and determined desire to create here a better society, one which reflects more closely God’s compassion and mercy, which we all so clearly need!”
Cardinal Nichols praised government focus on the homeless, efforts to secure affordable housing, and local funding for new approaches to homelessness.
He noted the importance of prison reform, given the link between homelessness and imprisonment. The cardinal also announced the release of a document on prison reform, “The Right Road,” which draws on expertise from Catholic charities, chaplains, and other relevant experts.