The Norfolk and Norwich Christian community website

Helping Norwich churches house the homeless

Hope into Action 1Christian charity Hope into Action started working in Norwich in 2012.  Now they partner with four churches across the city to house up to 10 previously homeless people and are eager to work with more Norfolk churches to develop this vital work.  Jenny Seal reports. 

In 2012 the Christian charity Hope into Action started work in Norfolk with one volunteer (who later became a member of staff) approaching churches asking them to commit their time to help house the homeless.

Now just 18 months later Hope into Action have a Norwich-based team of four employees working closely with four churches across the city, housing up to 10 tenants within four houses.  And there is the potential to house many more in need with the support of more churches across the city and the county. 

Hope into Action provides the properties, professional support and expertise which can enable a church to engage with homelessness and help them to meet the vital, basic needs of vulnerable people living within their community. 

Denise Wells, former Project Leader of Hope into Action in Norfolk said: “A lot of churches and Christians want to be involved in social action.  They want to help the poor, they want to house the homeless, but they don’t know how to do it.  On their own it is a big thing, but we can empower and enable them to do it.”

In Norwich Hope into Action have partnerships with Norwich Central Baptist Church working alongside Hebron House, the Gateway Vineyard Church, St Francis Church in Heartsease working with ENYP and New Hope Christian Centre.  In addition the charity has obtained a grant to purchase two empty houses in the city, one in partnership with Witard Road Baptist Church.  They also have an increasing number of houses in Peterborough, Cambridge, Nottingham and Swindon

In September this year Hope into Action, in partnership with New Hope Christian Centre, provided two men who had previously been sleeping on the streets of Norwich with a home.  One of the men described the help he has been given as the “greatest support I’ve received in my life so far”. 

The other said: “Hope into Action has helped me so much and at the right time and I cannot thank them enough for what they have done for me.”

How the Hope into Action model works 

The Hope into Action model started in Peterborough in July 2010.  The charity accesses grants or encourages an investor to buy a house to home the homeless, or if possible an existing or new church property can be used.  The charity then partners with a local church, which forms a group of 6-8 people committed to providing friendship and support to the tenants within that house. 

A support worker is employed by Hope into Action to provide professional support such as organising tenancies, benefits, risk assessments and liaising with other agencies, involving formal meetings with the tenants once a week.

Hope into Action provides introductory training and ongoing support for the ‘Friendship and Support group’ made up of the 6-8 members from the church. In return this group give practical and emotional assistance and prayer support to the tenants.  The help can include showing tenants how to cook, being on hand to garden, talk through issues or drive them to a meeting.

It is this church involvement that crucially sets Hope into Action apart from other housing associations or supported housing. 

Kate Doran-Smith, Church and Tenant Empowerment Officer for Hope into Action in Norfolk, explains: “It is that whole aspect of tapping into the resources of people, and talents, and prayer that a church can offer that we as half a dozen people can’t.  Without that church support we would fall into the trap of being just another housing association and having targets to meet.  We’ve got the time and the resources, with that church support, to really help turn some lives around.” 

The rents of the tenants are paid through housing benefits so investors get a return on their investment and from that money Hope into Action also pay the support workers.

Hope into Action 2Another key to the success of Hope into Action, which was founded and has flourished during a period of austerity, is their commitment to keeping overheads to a minimum.  The team recently moved into their Norwich office and has furnished it for around £100.  The Norwich team are also well supported by the charity’s Peterborough hub which provides HR, fundraising and financial expertise.   

Seeking more Norfolk churches to work alongside

Hope into Action has the desire and resources to work alongside many more churches in Norwich and Norfolk. Apart from prayer, and the time and commitment of the Friendship and Support group, the only financial obligation on the church is to furnish the property.  Hope into Action help with this but as Kate Doran-Smith said: “When you’ve got 100 people looking for a bed, you tend to find a bed.”

If a church is in a position to be able to buy or use an existing property, this is a welcomed option as well.  Norwich Central Baptist Church work with Hope into Action to use their former manse as move-on accommodation for women leaving the Norwich based drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre, Hebron House. 

Asked what a church should consider before getting involved, Denise Wells answered: “It’s a long-term commitment.  It’s about people committing to building up relationships with people, who aren’t always lovely lovely.  Sometimes they are really hard work.”

Kate added: “You are dealing with very vulnerable people.  You’ve got to be quite realistic.  You have to celebrate the tiny little steps.”

One volunteer from Norwich Central Baptist Church elaborated: “These women have been through things I can’t even imagine, and ‘progress’ for them might be as simple as organising a TV licence, putting in an application for a 1-day a week volunteering job or cooking dinner for themselves.  Small steps, taking each day as it comes; we mentors are there to support them with each step.” 

But with the opportunity to serve comes the opportunity to receive.  As members of Friendship and Support Groups provide this practical assistance, it is observed that they grow in confidence and realise talents that they previously didn’t know they had.

The Hope into Action team is eager to work with more churches across Norwich and Norfolk to help develop this vital and valuable work of homing the homeless. 

They welcome the opportunity to speak at church meetings or services and are happy to be contacted by phone on 01603 927 271 or by email at penny.jones@hopeintoaction.org.uk

For more information about how Hope into Action work visit www.hopeintoaction.org.uk.

Photos: Top – Kate Doran-Smith in the kitchen of the house supported by St Francis Church in Heartsease and ENYP
Bottom – The Norwich Hope into Action Team.  From left to right: Megan, Catherine, Penny and Kate 

To submit a story or to publicise an event please email: web@networknorwich.co.uk