Posts Tagged ‘Catholic Housing Aid Society’

It is sixty years since two Catholic women, Maisie Ward and Molly Walsh, decided that something practical needed to be done to prevent homelessness and help families and individuals into secure affordable accommodation. Maisie Ward was a writer, theologian and the daughter of a prominent Catholic publisher. Molly Walsh and her husband, Bob, ran a House of Hospitality during the depression.  Molly and Maisie met through the Catholic Evidence Guild. They shared a concern about the needs of young families in Britain after the war. Especially as they saw the damage done to children who were being brought up in dreadful slum conditions and the lasting impact on family life. Molly and Maisie joined forces to persuade the Catholic Church to respond to the needs of people who were homeless or living in poverty – a witness of the Catholic community to the problem, but a service to the entire community.

Over the years many Catholics, usually married women, up and down the country, joined forces with Maisie and Molly to run support and advice services from their homes. That was the birth of CHAS, the Catholic Housing Aid Society. In the early days they raised money to buy parish-based houses to convert into flats for families in need.  They also raised money for people to use as a deposit on a home and, indeed, often secretly guaranteed the loan. They brought together groups of volunteer professionals, such as bank managers and surveyors, to give free advice to low income families who were trying to move into home ownership but were experiencing difficulty in finding reliable, honest and affordable advice.    And they established half-way houses, where people could rent accommodation for a few years, but the rent they paid included a compulsory “savings” element which was returned to them at the end of their tenancy so they had a lump sum to use as a deposit on a property.

Sixty years on Housing Justice, as the successor organisation to CHAS, continues to work to meet a need that is tragically, just as great today. As part of the sixtieth anniversary celebrations we are re-issuing “Homelessness: a fact and a scandal” first published in 1990. The problem described then is very similar to the problem as it exists today – but the political and social context in which we are operating is very different. There have been huge changes in attitudes to poverty and to the role of the state as provider of a welfare safety net. But there has also been a big increase in the number of church linked projects, like the winter night shelters Housing Justice supports, and in the number of volunteers from faith communities of all stripes who want to do something to make a real difference. The times are ripe for change.

So maybe, just maybe this is the time when the battle to end homelessness in England is about to make another leap forward. There are three developments that I present in evidence.

The first is the CLG committee’s Homelessness Inquiry. This is an in depth look at the causes of homelessness and the effectiveness of the work being done to tackle it by the voluntary sector and by Local Authorities. It is currently hearing selected oral evidence but it is still open to late submissions if you want to send one.

The second is the independent review of homelessness legislation published on26th April by Crisis. Again this is an in depth review by experts from across the spectrum of Local Authorities and third sector organisations. The focus here is on the legal duties owed to homeless people in England. Even though there is not complete agreement about the recommendations there is broad consensus and the appendix proposes detailed amendments to the current legislative position including the institution of a duty to prevent homelessness.

So far so good – and perhaps you are all thinking that we have been here before. The third element though is a minister who is engaging both with the sector and with the not so usual suspects. Marcus Jones may have got off to a rocky start at Homeless Link’s conference in 2015 but he has made up for it since. He has read the reports, visited projects, talked to people with experience of homelessness and seems to be genuinely committed to finding better ways to prevent people becoming homeless in the first place. Of course this is all on the back of changes that have already taken place in Scotland and are underway in Wales, but I don’t mind if we English are followers rather than leaders here so long as we get there in the end.


Housing in Britain is in crisis. We have a broken housing market where even rising prices – e.g. in London – do not cause sufficient homes to be built to satisfy our needs (every year around 100,000 more households are created than new homes are built). There are not enough homes of the right size in the right places at a genuinely affordable cost. So homes lie empty in one area while families live in appallingly overcrowded conditions in another. Private rents are rising out of control, subsidised by Housing Benefit, and more and more people are being evicted when their short-term tenancies end. The so called Bedroom Tax penalises people in social housing even when there are no smaller properties for them to move into. And changes to the benefit system are contributing to homelessness and housing insecurity.
Against this backdrop Housing Justice is helping parishes across the country take practical steps to make a difference. We know It’s a huge problem but it is one where even a small parish or joint churches project can make a big difference.
Ever since the Catholic Housing Aid Society was founded in 1956 we have been pursuing our vision – that everyone should have a home that truly meets their needs. Over the years we’ve changed our activities to meet the changing needs of people who need help with their housing. Where rough sleeping and sofa surfing are a big problem Housing Justice can help set up a Night Shelter to provide basic accommodation and food through the winter months – and link the shelter guests into local services to help them move off the street into proper accommodation. There are around 50 church and community Night Shelters across England and Wales but more are needed. (You can see some videos about Night Shelters in action on our website:
Folk are always willing to help but often need some guidance about the best way to do so. That’s why every year Housing Justice trains thousands of volunteers who go on to help in Night Shelters, soup kitchens, day centres and drop ins. The next stage though is providing help for people who have just moved off the streets and into housing. Our Mentoring and Befriending project trains and supports volunteers (and helps set up new projects) to be mentors and befrienders for people who are newly housed. The volunteers help people settle in to their new life and new community in practical ways, doing things like negotiating the process of opening a bank account, writing an attractive CV, finding work or volunteering opportunities, and building new social circles. We run our own scheme in London (new volunteers are always welcome) and support projects across the country.
There are even ways in which a parish can make a difference to the supply of genuinely affordable housing in its community. The biggest contribution is through the work of our Faith in Affordable Housing team, Judith Derbyshire and Sharon Lee. These two dynamic women support parishes, dioceses and religious orders through the process of converting empty churches, presbyteries and other buildings into new social housing. There are some great examples of what can be achieved here: But if you don’t have a building or any land to spare there are still ways to have an impact. Even one person taking in a lodger or a buy-to-let landlord deciding to rent to a family claiming benefits or at a lower than market rent will make a difference to people living in your community.
If this article has inspired you to find out more a representative of Housing Justice will be pleased to come and talk to you, your group, your church or local churches together organisation. Or you can come to see us at one of the Roadshows we are holding this year. The first one is in Liverpool on 22nd May, then Birmingham on 12th June, and Rayleigh (Essex) on 28th June. At the roadshows there will be a chance to find out about the problem locally and nationally as well as to be informed about how you can make a difference.
Contact us on 0203544 8094 or email

When Housing Justice was formed in 2003 from the merger of CHAS (the Catholic Housing Aid Society) and CNHC (the Churches National Housing Coalition) a key task was to develop a vision statement for the new organisation. There was a lively debate about the words that should be used to express our aims and goals. Strong voices called for a statement about the eradication of homelessness in our country. But the vision that won out in the end, the vision we still hold to as an organisation, does not include any words about eradicating, or even ending, homelessness. This is because some of us felt that phrases like ‘eradicate homelessness’ can carry the implication that homeless people should be wiped out or swept under the carpet rather than that work should be done to solve the problems that cause people to become homeless. So Housing Justice’s vision is of a society where everyone has a home that truly meets their needs. So for Housing Justice ending rough sleeping is not an end in itself but part of a larger picture.
Of course that begs the question of what ‘a home that truly meets one’s needs’ looks like. For me this includes things like safety, security and the ability to support human flourishing. So when I am asked if Housing Justice defends the right of people to sleep rough as a kind of life style choice I use our vision as my touchstone: if someone has found a way of living on the street that truly meets their needs for a home, then I will support and defend that but otherwise I will work as hard as I can to find them a real home.
So this vision, together with a belief that human dignity is challenged by the lack of a decent home, is the ground on which our support for churches and Christians who work with rough sleepers is based. We start from the premise that homelessness is a problem for everyone in society and not just for those who find themselves roofless or insecurely or inadequately housed. We believe that the responsibility for creating a society where homelessness is no longer a problem cannot be handed over in its entirety to the Government or to the Council – faith groups, communities, families and individuals all need to share in the work.
Housing Justice puts its vision into action through advocacy on behalf of churches, the work they do around homelessness and bad housing, and the people they work with. We also help churches to help homeless and badly housed people through things like training, project toolkits and support forums for Winter Shelter and Soup Run projects. Through this work we seek to enable churches and individual Christians to play their part in bringing about the sort of society we seek. There are two aspects of the work to which it seems to me churches and other faith groups are especially suited. Perhaps the most obvious is the need to fill gaps left by commissioned services. This may be gaps due to people’s entitlement to support, for example, services for people with no recourse to public funds. Or, more controversially, gaps created by the withdrawal or reduction of services due to funding cuts. In both these cases, while Housing Justice would support groups to provide the best, most professional, service possible, we would try to combine the work with a campaign to point out where government (local or national) was not meeting its responsibilities. The second area is to provide people to work with rough sleepers who are not paid to do so. This may happen in the context of a volunteer led Winter Shelter, a soup run, a mentoring and befriending project or volunteers working alongside outreach professionals. Both from anecdotes and from research projects we hear that the people our projects called guests and commissioned services call clients or service users really appreciate the engagement of people who are not paid homelessness workers. There is also the advantage that volunteer involvement enables projects and activities to be available in the evenings and at weekends.
There is much willingness on the part of churches and other faith groups to work with commissioned services to achieve common ends. There is rarely a shortage of volunteers to put this aspect of Big Society into action. However, there is some suspicion about phrases such as No Second Night Out. People, especially those who have volunteered in homelessness projects for some time, are cynical about the underlying motives. I think that local authority commissioners, and the service providers they commission, also harbour suspicious about the action of faith communities in being alongside rough sleepers, interpreting this as collusion or support for a rough sleeping life style. I find myself (and Housing Justice) in the middle of this disconnection, putting the case to faith groups that the government genuinely seeks an end to rough sleeping, and saying to government (and to my colleagues in commissioned services) that faith groups absolutely share the aim of seeing people move away from the streets with lives transformed and hope restored.
Housing Justice welcomes the recognition by government that more funding is needed in order to achieve the goal of ending rough sleeping (and we note with gratitude the role of Homeless Link in securing that funding). As responsibility for tackling homelessness is increasingly devolved to local authorities we can see a greater role for churches and other faith groups as partners in tackling homelessness in their communities, whether by filling gaps, providing volunteer resources or in other ways. Housing Justice are keen to help develop effective partnerships between faith groups and Local Authorities to work to end homelessness.
However, the worry remains that money is being poured into addressing the symptoms of a problem that has much deeper causes. We believe that more work and more funding needs to be directed to preventing homelessness arising in the first place. Clearly this includes stimulation of the building of homes (especially affordable ones), but there is much more that needs to be done to support families, to help people to be better parents, to create adequately paid jobs, to increase security and standards in the private rented sector, and to improve financial literacy. To return to the vision of Housing Justice – we all need to work together to create a society where everyone has a home that truly meets their needs, only then will we have a real hope of ending rough sleeping for ever.