Churches serving the Homeless in East London
Having a place to call home is a basic human need. Sadly, too many people in East London don’t have this. That’s where GrowTH comes in.
GrowTH is an initiative of local churches in Tower Hamlets that felt a call to do something bold about the increasingly evident problem of homelessness on their doorstep. These churches set up a ‘rolling’ night shelter in their church buildings to welcome in homeless men and women from the cold, and give them hot meals and a warm bed for the night. The shelter is run by volunteers and the location moves between seven different churches – one for each night of the week.
Over the years, thanks to increasing involvement from local churches, the GrowTH night shelter has expanded and is now open every night of the week for seven months of the year.
Each night, 15 homeless men and women are shown hospitality by the local church. Through the seven months, around 150 people are hosted in the churches. Each guest can stay at the shelter for up to 28 nights whilst receiving support from our Advocate Workers in finding more permanent accommodation.
Our guests come from a huge variety of backgrounds and cultures and have become homeless for different reasons. Whether it’s family breakdown, unemployment, issues with addiction or a refugee fleeing violence in their home country, we welcome all our guests. Each guest is referred to the night shelter by a partner agency in Tower Hamlets, and undergoes a risk assessment before staying their first night with us.
Our Advocate Workers meet with each guest and work with them to help resolve issues that led them to become homeless, and to secure more permanent accommodation. Our advocacy work pays off, as each season typically over a third of guests move into permanent accommodation after their stay at the night shelter! Many others take up other temporary accommodation while their situations are being resolved.
As a church run night shelter, guests also have the opportunity to engage with the Christian faith, if they wish. We do this through optional Bible studies in the night shelter, informal conversations with volunteers, offers of prayer and invitations to church services.
One guest, Aref, pictured here, was happy to share his story: Aref came to the UK as a refugee fleeing persecution in Iran.
Shortly after receiving the good news that he could stay in the UK, his temporary accommodation ended and he became homeless. Aref describes his time sleeping on the streets:
> “Very difficult: no shower, no sleep, no good food, nothing; winter is cold.”
Aref was eventually referred to the GrowTH night shelter. Exhausted from sleeping rough, he was grateful for the welcome and hospitality he received. Within a few weeks, one of our Advocate Workers had secured a room for him in a shared house in South East London, where he could start to build a new life for himself.
In recent years we have also started running our own supported homes. In these four homes, up to six formerly homeless men can receive more in-depth longer-term support from our Advocate Workers. Here residents are supported in areas such as job seeking and accessing healthcare. We are finding that the longer-term stability and support help residents take significant steps forward in life.