Catholic churches and organisations, feeding vulnerable people for many months, anticipate needs soaring with winter coming and the new four-week lockdown imposed.
In Westminster Diocese, the chair of the Justice and Peace Commission, Fr Dominic Robinson SJ, told The Tablet: “As the cold weather looms the needs are getting more serious, with increasing numbers on the poverty line.” He reported that Westminster City Council wants to work with faith groups, “and this is a time to work together”. Joint initiatives planned at his Farm Street parish include mental health services, employment advice and art and performance therapy.
Central London Catholic churches are currently feeding the homeless two days a week in the Arrupe Hall at Farm Street. The food is donated by local businesses and more than 40 volunteers in the churches have come forward to help. Fr Robinson reported that by going around hotels and restaurants to seek support he has met very anxious people, some already among the new homeless in Central London.
“I have felt the anguish of the hospitality industry with businesses unable to pay rents, keep staff and facing closure,” he said. Yet, “they still want to help feed the homeless.” St Patrick’s, Soho Square, reports seeing more long-term homelessness and an increase in mental health problems. Many they are serving were involved in informal work which they have lost and have no safety net.
On Wednesday, Fr Robinson joined with Revd Lucy Winkett, Rector of St James, Picaddilly, and Revd Jonathan Evens of St Martin in the Fields, Trafalgar Square, to lobby Nickie Aiken, the MP for Cities of London and Westminster, to urge the government to address causes of homelessness and food insecurity. These include everyone having recourse to public funds, regardless of their immigration status, and extending the ban on evictions for those unable to pay their rent. “People want a hand up as well as a hand out,” Fr Robinson said, “and they need to have respect shown to them.”
Much of the outreach is managed by Caritas Westminster. Anna Gavurin, its Caritas Food Collective Project Coordinator, told The Tablet of mounting needs. “Many families who have never needed help before the pandemic have now got through any savings they had due to losing work or losing income due to reduced hours, having to isolate, or only receiving 80 per cent of their wages whilst on furlough” she said. “This leaves them with very little safety net as we go into lockdown again.”
Aina Omo-Bare who cooks for up to 40 people three times a week at St Monica’s RC Church in Hoxton with the support of local businesses and Caritas Westminster. Pic: Ellen Teague
One project in North Hertfordshire has reported seeing many cases of this with people asking for emergency food parcels. She said: “The amount of work that has gone on in churches and schools across the diocese to provide food relief has been incredible and is providing a crucial lifeline to thousands of people facing food insecurity.”
Caritas figures show that Westminster Diocese – with around 200 parishes and another 200 schools – is involved in 356 food relief projects, with 249 of these being directly run by Catholic Churches. Finchley East Foodbank has seen a 400 percent increase in demand since lockdown began. Bow Foodbank has gone from serving 172 people per session in March to 376 in September. Hayes parish, which supported 15 families in March is now supporting 75 families, comprising 250 people, weekly. Palmers Green parish supports 300 individuals weekly.
As Christmas approaches the Caritas Food Collective is asking individuals, schools, and parishes to create an advent calendar with a difference. Each day people are asked to put aside an item of food, which at the end can be donated to a local food bank or similar project.