What is the need?
In the UK, homelessness is not limited to rough sleepers. The homeless community also includes those who move from hostel to hostel, stay on friends’ couches, live communally in squats, take refuge in shelters, and those who reside in overcrowded households. The term “homelessness” includes basically any unstable living situation.
Because of the instability that surrounds homelessness, it’s nearly impossible to get accurate statistics, and it's only been recently that an effort has been made to collect this type of data. As of Autumn 2018, Homeless Link estimated that there were 1,283 rough sleepers in London alone. These rough sleepers are at high risk of illness, violence, theft of personal property and death.
Unfortunately, the rates of visible homelessness and deaths on our streets have only been going up. According to the Office of National Statistics, London has one of the highest mortality rates for the rough sleeping population, with men and women dying at the average ages of 42-44. An estimated 597 deaths of homeless people were registered in England and Wales last year. In 2017, there was an average of 12 people dying on the street per week. Because it's so difficult to get reliable data, we know that these estimates are low.
With budget cuts in government and local councils in recent years, benefits have been cut for vulnerable people, or those who cannot care for themselves in the typical capacity of a normal adult. Churches and charities are expected to pick up the slack, but many of them barely have their heads above water. As a result, many vulnerable people are left displaced and without anywhere to turn to for help.
In this wealthy country, we find ourselves asking how this can be possible. And beyond that, what can we do to change it?
How We Started
We started calling our mercy ministry ‘The Lazarus Project’ in the beginning of 2017, but that wasn’t the first time we worked with vulnerable adults. During the 2012 Olympics in London, we began a long lasting relationship with a café in Soho that allowed us to reach out to people in the Red Light District. We gave out teas and coffees and performed music, which got us in conversations with the nightlife there- from drug dealers, to pimps and prostitutes.
In 2015 we started a dinner club that served a three course meal to the needy and lonely in Notting Hill. We also gave free manicures and hairstyling which lead to deeper conversations. These things allowed them to feel valued, cared for and like there was time for them to relax and just be, in a way that they normally wouldn't be able to afford. Our heart was to honour the people that came in, to build relationships with them and make them feel seen.
What We are Doing Now
When we looked into new and different ways to reach the vulnerable people of London, we started partnering with several organisations in the area to hand out food and clothes for the homeless in front of underground stations. We still serve every Tuesday morning with London City Mission from 11am till 1pm at a drop-in providing tea, coffee and lunch for the homeless and needy.
While our heart is primarily for London, we occasionally go to other cities and help with organisations there. We've worked with refugees in Belgium, with vulnerable adults in Edinburgh and with the homeless in Manchester and Denmark. The more we extend our arms, the more God opens our eyes to the different needs in different areas.
Where We Are Going
The heart of The Lazarus Project is to bring hope to the hopeless. God’s love always trusts, always hopes and always perseveres. In the future, we would love to work with human trafficking victims, with sex workers, with prisoners, with refugees and with others in need.
We want to meet the vulnerable where they are and enable them to be self-sufficient. We are a part of a project called ‘Think,’ which is a shop that is a combination of a café, tattoo parlour and hairdresser. This shop is a space where we eventually want to provide vulnerable people the opportunity to have a job to be invested in and to help them to get back on their feet.
We have been trained in different areas like first aid, fire safety, counselling and food hygiene, but we would love to keep growing so that we can be properly equipped to welcome people back home into family and into society. To carry the responsibility that we have, we want to get more training and certification, especially in the area of safeguarding.
While we are actively doing the dreams that God has put on our hearts, we would love to be a platform to launch others in their visions to reach more of the needy in London. We want to inspire people to actively love each other, because the burden is not just for a few; we have all been told to love our neighbours as ourselves.
Our most recent Lazarus project is feeding the homeless and needy of Camden Town on Saturday nights. While there are feeding programmes in place many other nights of the week, we saw a gap on Saturday nights, and we didn’t like knowing that our friends were going hungry.
Every Saturday night, we set up a tent outside of the Underground station. We have a station with hot drinks, soup, bread, pastries, and even clothing and toiletries. Our dream is to expand into more filling hot food, and we are working with cafes in the area in order to receive donations.
What we love the most about Saturday nights is that it is a natural growth from the work we’ve done with other organisations in Camden over the past few years. We’ve already built relationships with a lot of the people who visit on Saturday nights, so we know what they love to receive. When we give them their favourite body spray or some new socks, it seems like a little thing, but it changes the course of their day. They know that they are special enough to us that we bring things to delight them. They expect to be invisible or forgotten, but when we remember them, they know that they are important.
Would you like to join us as we reach out to the vulnerable and needy of Camden Town?
We meet at 7:00 pm in front of HSBC on Camden High Street every Saturday night - and we’d love for you to come along and join us!