Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

current issue



Another Marylebone? Rough sleepers evicted from St Luke\'s

September 26 2009
Reverend Moffatt denies council pressure was behind his decision. "We felt safe there. The church's action has made us all vulnerable." The words of one rough sleeper who was moved on from St Luke's Church in Chelsea last month. With the majority of those moved on from church grounds now wandering the streets at night, was the right decision taken? For 11 homeless people, St Luke's Church in Chelsea had been a warm and welcoming place for them to bed down at night. The church porch offered shelter and the vicar was sympathetic to their plight. They had an open relationship with him and mutual respect for each other. "We wouldn't be around when church services were taking place," says Terry, who slept at St Luke's for 18 months. "We'd arrive late in the evening and leave by six in the morning." The area has been a haven for the homeless for many years. The Methodist Church on the King's Road has an open-door policy for the homeless and both churches are part of the West London Churches Homeless Concern. But earlier this year things began to change. A number of incidents occurred which led Associate Vicar Reverend Joe Moffatt, together with the churchwardens and the church council, to revisit his treatment of those bedding down on his porch. "There was aggressive behaviour from some individuals and complaints from residents and other users of church grounds," he said. While he says the majority of rough sleepers using the church porch were "lovely, respectful people" the numbers of those bedding down, as well as a number of violent incidents, made him question the safety of both his staff and those sleeping there. "It was with great reluctance that we withdrew our permission for them to use it as a place of refuge, but we can't resource and manage it in a safe way," he told The Pavement. Rough sleepers using St Luke's say that there was a spate of violent incidents in which a man from outside of their group threatened and assaulted a number of them. They called the Police on three occasions but only on the third occasion was the situation dealt with. On top of this, a number of newcomers had also not been abiding by the rules of the church; but far from witnessing rising numbers making the church their bedroom for the night, they say the number of people sleeping there was, in fact, declining. Reverend Moffatt admits that he had come under some pressure from the Council to move the rough sleepers on from the church, but he says that this was not the reason behind his decision. He arranged for outreach workers from Broadway to hold a surgery at the church and help those he was moving on to find alternative accommodation. However, almost two months on, of the 11 people bedding down at St Luke's, including three women, only three have found temporary accommodation. Some do not feel that they have been given adequate support and are now spending their nights on buses, walking the streets or sleeping in shop doorways. "The church has made us all vulnerable," says Paul. Joe Batty, outreach co-ordinator at Broadway, denies that his organisation has not offered enough support to help those who have been moved on find housing. "We were available and we continue to be available. It's a difficult situation which has not been resolved," he said, and he urges those who have not been helped so far to contact Broadway. He says that Broadway is not acting on behalf of the council and that the decision taken by Reverend Moffatt was an independent one. But for those left vulnerable by church action, some for the second time in recent years, is it time for St Luke's to revisit its policy towards its homeless parishioners? Some of those who took part in this interview are disappointed that a church with which they had a good relationship made this decision so rashly, without consultation. "A few people needed to be given a warning," admits one. "But the way we were hounded out went against our previous relationship with the church." They believe the church is making excuses when it claims that the area is no longer safe. Reverend Moffatt says: "We had a self-policing system in place and when it was working we were happy. But when there's a threat of abuse, the only other option is a full ban." The names of some of the rough sleepers in this article have been changed at those persons' request. If you have a story you want investigated, but are concerned that your identity would be published, don't be deterred from contacting us. Our professional journalists need to investigate stories completely, but that does not mean your name needs to appear in print.