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Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Another Church eviction raises question about \'targeting hotspots\'

September 26 2009
Church move-on was an exercise in displacement, resettlement figures suggest St Luke's in Chelsea has become the latest London Church to remove rough sleepers from its grounds. On 3rd August, a letter from the Reverend Joe Moffatt was left for those sleeping rough on its porch informing them that the church is "withdrawing permission for anyone to sleep on its premises." An increase in rough sleepers within church grounds and a shift towards using the church as a "permanent place of choice, than as a last resort" had forced the church to change its policy, the letter said. It also said that, "this is not appropriate either for the individuals concerned or for the church as a sacred space in the community." Those using the church as a refuge have been invited to attend a surgery to help them find alternative arrangements, but for some, this is their second move-on from church grounds in less than 18 months. In February 2005, rough sleepers were moved off the steps of the Parish Church of St Marylebone as part of plans to target homeless 'hotspots.' The Pavement covered the action after a letter from a reader, Steve, detailed what happened. A copy of the eviction letter was given to the rough sleepers by the vicar on St Valentine's Day. As another set of rough sleepers is moved on, what has happened to those evicted from Marylebone and is the move-on policy proving effective? When Marylebone Church decided to issue the eviction notice to those on its steps, it was part of a move to remove the sleepers from its land, alongside an effort by outreach workers to offer accommodation to all those present. But the results suggest that it was less of a success in getting people into hostels and more an exercise in displacement. The Pavement caught up with Steve and Marylebone Joe, both of whom were present during the Marylebone move-on. Joe thought that there had been around 17 sleeping on site and that after the action nine were still on the street, two had disappeared and only six were in temporary accommodation. Steve told us "there was a core of about eight of us." Of these, he thought that five were still on the street, one in a rolling shelter and two in hostels. A spokesman for Westminster Council said: "As far as we are aware, of those moved on from Marylebone Church last year, one person has moved out of the area, one is in a hostel, one has moved into a shared house, and three are still on the streets." Despite the varying figures, all collected in May, the results are not good enough to justify the disruption caused, and should provide evidence for a review of the policy. "I don't think they thought beyond the rolling shelters," Steve said. What was particularly sad in these cases are that they are occurring on the grounds of a Church. Contrast nearby Hinde Street Methodist Church, which was also asked to consider moving on those sleeping on its steps. Father Leao Neto spoke to the The Pavement to clarify the situation, saying that [the Church Council] had decided to "allow people on the steps, not because it is a solution, but because if they want to move on [in life] we're ready for them." His practical Christianity is demonstrated by his tolerance of some street drinkers, who also used the Church grounds, with his simple message: "We're here for you, if you want to change." He refused to comment on the attitude of St Marylebone Parish Church and The Pavement has, despite many messages to the church and to the Bishop, received no comment of regret from those involved in this action. The Bishop of Kensington, The Right Reverend Michael Colclough, told us that the move-on had "been a success in finding flats or hostel accommodation for people who were previously sleeping on the street." He cited no figures, however, and perhaps was not aware of the true numbers, but he also refused to be drawn on whether they had followed up on what had happened to those who didn't go into hostels. Indeed no one, either from the Church, the council or the outreach teams appears to have gone back to consider the statistics after the move, and whether it is helpful to their published goals to move people on in this manner. When we asked St Marylebone Parish Church to comment on their part in targeting a 'hotspot' we eventually received an email from the parish secretary stating "St Marylebone Parish Church has no comment to make on this matter." Of course, the Church has a long history of giving shelter and succour to the homeless. Many organisations have their roots in the activities of particular churches, and many continue to practice what they preach. However, here the Church has failed to act in line with its own teachings, and the latest move-on suggests that a review of the policy is not in sight.