The following article focuses on the crisis in Youth Homelessness and the need for powerful advocates, it is published this morning in The Argus newspaper: There are few people who have the privilege of living in a Palace, particularly one that can trace its history back to the end of the 12th Century. Martin Warner as the Bishop of Chichester lives in the Bishop’s Palace in the Cathedral Close at the centre of Chichester City. Despite its history and an array of features it is also a very comfortable home. To willingly exchange a palace to sleep in a car-park, even in Hove, in a shelter the Bishop will have to make for himself out of donated cardboard boxes takes some guts although the Bishop points out on his website, it is no act of heroism. Nevertheless some of those who look up to him as leader of their Church may find his decision hard to understand and there may even be some who feel it is demeaning for him to participate in the event. He is participating in Sleep Easy organised by YMCA Downslink Group which is taking place this Friday simultaneously in Horsham and Guildford as well as Hove. One of the targets that the YMCA had set for this year’s event was for 100 people to participate and along with the Bishop there will 99 other people sleeping in not so easy places on Friday night. The event is intended to draw attention to the impact of youth homelessness. The YMCA houses some 300 young people every night who would otherwise be homeless, and recent decisions by this Government to deny housing benefit to people under the age of 21 will undoubtedly lead to many more young people facing this situation and indeed it will create a financial challenge for the YMCA as it seeks to fund their work. As well as raising awareness of the plight of homeless young people, the YMCA aims to raise funds for their good work, last year they raised £24,000. However the problem of homelessness will not be solved by one night spent under cardboard or by a few thousand pounds.
Dr Warner will be joined in his adventure by Martin Lloyd Williams who is the Archdeacon of Brighton and Lewes and the two men as key leaders of the largest Church organisation in Sussex will hopefully use this evening to reflect on other ways in which the Anglican Church in Sussex can continue to assist in addressing homelessness. The Church of England is well known as a significant landowner and whilst much of this land is controlled by the Church Commissioners and represents the pensions of church workers, there are ways in which this land could be used to ensure that low cost housing is constructed in areas where the need is greatest. Martin Warner is in a good position to advocate for such approaches. We also need the Church Commissioners to act in a way that challenges other institutional landowners such as the MOD to use their land in an effective way. Even in the local setting in the Diocese of Chichester, there are ways in which the land around some of the Churches or the buildings themselves could be used to help address homelessness. The actions of Alan Sharpe as vicar at St Patricks Church in 1985 which led to the conversion of parts of the church to provide permanent housing for vulnerable people is one example of how historic buildings can be used to assist people in need. Another example was the closure of St Wilfrids on Elm Grove which was converted into flats and more recently the conversion of St Augustines on Stanford Avenue. In settings where the Church itself is beyond repair such as St Saviours redundant sites can be replaced with housing. Finally as leaders of the Church of England, Dr Warner and his colleagues are in a position to advocate for housing to be constructed in sensitive ways across the Diocesan area. The need for more housing in the South East is self evident. There are many groups of people who have seen their role to challenge the building of new homes and whilst charities such as the YMCA and BHT have sought to advocate for homeless people, their voices are sometimes ignored in ways that a Bishop and Archdeacon will not be. We need to hear the church raising its voice on such issues here in Sussex as local MPs and Government Planning Inspectors are seen to come to loggerheads over housing numbers. We also need to hear these voices raised nationally as a challenge to this Government. A hallmark of the Church is that it is intended to be an agency which will speak out on behalf of those without a strong voice of their own. The homeless community is clearly one such group of people without a public voice and advocates for their needs are vital.