This is GrowTH- in partnership with local churches

This is GrowTH- in partnership with local churches

04 December 2023 by Pattie Gercke in Homelessness, Housing.

This is GrowTH is a Tower Hamlets homelessness project run in partnership with a number of churches in the borough.

Their vision is “to see transformation in the lives of marginalised men and women in Tower Hamlets, for God’s glory”. At their core, they “are a partnership of churches who love their homeless neighbours and desperately want their lives to be healed.“

This is GrowTH run a night shelter over the winter in local churches. They also have supported housing, a new day centre, and plans for a “discipleship house”. Last winter 134 guests used their shelter, and 63 were helped into move on accommodation.

Over the past few years, many of the rotating night shelter models have changed, either due to Covid or other factors. This is GrowTH have chosen to continue with this model, alongside the other housing and support they offer.

Naomi Johns, Director of This is GrowTH shares a little of the vision and values that drive this work, and in particular their unashamed Christian core.

What does This is Growth do?

We’re in our 14th season of the night shelter circuit in churches. We run for 7 months, from October to the end of April.

Since 2015, we also run a supported housing project. This provides accessible and affordable accommodation in Tower Hamlets, on Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates and with no deposit or rent required in advance. We partner with a local housing association to get flats at the end of their life, before they are going to be knocked down.

Last year, for the first time we also started a day centre. From using hotels during the pandemic, we saw the value of guests having somewhere nice and warm to spend the day, as well as somewhere to store their luggage. We are running the day centre again this year, and it’s working well.

How does your organisations’ faith basis work itself out?

We are very clear that we’re a Christian charity: we believe that people’s ultimate need is to be reconciled to God, and to secure eternal homes, not just temporary ones. So while we are “faith in action,” we will share the gospel and do prayer ministry.

When people are in the night shelter they will hear about Jesus from the various churches who host. If people want to respond that is great, but if not, we don’t go there.

If people are interested, we’ll have a conversation and in the nightshelters every night there is Bible study offered. I’m always amazed when we get messages from the shelter co-ordinator saying “nearly all the guests have attended the bible study”. We offer to pray for people and most say yes!

We try and start every day in prayer, and we also think hard about the spaces we offer. We have a day centre that we try to maintain as a place of peace. Often these sort of places can be quite chaotic, but our guests know it won’t be in our day centre. We pray in the space and have peaceful Christian worship music playing in the background; we have big sofas, rugs, coffee tables, places people can just come and rest, sleep.

We’ve had people come in and share their testimony. Around lunch we’ve run Alpha courses ….there’s always room for improvement

We want This is GrowTH to be a place where prayer is the first thing we go to. If something happens, we can turn to each other and just say “let’s quickly pray about that”.

Sometimes in a really busy season things can get lost, and there are times when we don’t manage it, but we try and make sure it remains a priority.

How do you link with local churches in Tower Hamlets, and how has that changed over Covid and beyond?

Our churches have been amazing and the relationship with them hasn’t really changed, even with all the challenges and changes during Covid. We feel so blessed to have them.

The churches all have night shelter co-ordinators and we’re massively grateful to them for pulling together volunteers.

We are trying to recruit new churches, and volunteering is always a challenge- there is always so much need….

The night shelter is so necessary, but our move-on supported housing is a real gift- to be able to accompany people and offer them a stepping stone for 12-18 months off the streets.

There is room for churches to get more involved in the supported housing. We could really do with some befriending, just regular visits and relationship building with the residents who are placed in our flats. It can be quite isolating, and confidence can be a big thing for residents, so just knowing there is a local friend is valuable. Now we have the day centre, volunteers can also come and spend time there with people.

How are you tackling the issue around lack of affordable housing?

The night shelter has been going well but what is difficult is the move on pathways, as there are so many waiting lists for the hostels now. Hostels are one of our main accommodation pathways out the night shelter. But there just aren’t the places.

As a charity we’re incredibly blessed that we have some housing we can offer. Up to now we’ve had 7 flats with 15 residents, and in the last year we’ve been offered 5 more- ones that were due to be demolished but haven’t been- so that means we can house 31 residents now. It’s exciting, but a lot of work to get the flats painted, decorated, and up to scratch!

The overall picture remains challenging- we’re down this year on move-ons compared to other years, there just aren’t the places to move people onto.

How do you see the work developing over the next couple of years?

We would love to develop our day centre more. We’re going to have some art therapy, run by a volunteer coming in who loves art. I’d love to do a choir too- we’re trying to find someone who can come in and sing with our guests.

The other big development is that we are in the process of purchasing a house which we hope will be a “discipleship house”. It will be for those who really want to see change in their lives, and are open to the Christian faith as being part of that change.

We’ve just recruited a chaplain for the first time, who will be working at the day centre, as well as with our housing residents. We know our faith motivation is the most important thing, but it’s hard to keep that as the priority and focus- so hopefully the chaplain will help us with that.

We’d love to have even better links too between us and local churches, so that when people leave the housing they can be welcomed and integrated into churches, so the chaplain can build that link too.

What can we pray for, as you and the churches serve over the winter?

  • For the right people to come through the doors of the housing that we have- it’s hard making decisions about who will get it, but it needs to be a good fit for someone.
  • For provision as we look to get the discipleship house up and running- there isn’t a big income stream!
  • For the guests- for softened hearts – knowing they can receive the gift of new life when they walk through the door!
  • For our amazing volunteers to be encouraged – many have been serving for years and years, so they can get weary. Pray for them to see something of God in what they are doing, to keep going.

You can find out more about the work of This Is GrowTH at https://thisisgrowth.org/

Pattie Gercke

Pattie Gercke

Pattie is the Compassionate Communities Development Worker for Refugee& Aslyum Seeker response, Housing & Homelessness. She has a background in the humanitarian sector and an MA in Development and Emergency Practice. She is passionate about issues of justice, hospitality, and community.

View all posts by Pattie Gercke

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