The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead

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January 2018

CARIS Haringey and CARIS Camden

Andrew Penny

The Parish supports two CARIS organisations; CARIS Haringey and CARIS Camden. They are linked only in name and broad objects; CARIS stands for Care and Response in Society but there is an intentional echo of Caritas, the Latin word for Christian love of one’s neighbour. Both CARIS Haringey and CARIS Camden set out to realise that love in practical but different ways.

CARIS Camden was established in 2007 and intended to take over a small number of Camden Deanery charitable funds and most significantly, to be a corporate charity to run the winter night shelters organised by the Camden Churches Committee for Cold Weather Shelters (C4WS) and for the first eight years that is all it did apart from making a few grants to local charities helping families difficulty in Camden.

C4WS grew; gradually, in the number of guests it could accommodate because we are limited by the size of the smallest of the seven churches (we are now one of these) in the weekly cycle, and in the length of the season which is now from November to March inclusive. Because of the size constraint, the emphasis has been on expanding the welfare support that we give to guests. This now includes individual help in securing benefits entitlements; obtaining documents; English classes and help on the road to finding sustainable accommodation. For many, and especially migrants from the EEA this means finding a job. They have no right to claim benefits or housing and if they are to find somewhere to live they must be able to demonstrate that they have a wage and be able to put down a deposit for rent. We have a Hardship Fund (generously started and kept topped up by an anonymous sporting celebrity who walked into the Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church one day and put down £10,000), but the work of our Jobs Club is  vital; with the help of volunteers from local businesses we establish what skills a guest has; what jobs he (usually, although about 10-15% are women) should look for; how best to present himself in a CV and interview (including mock interviews), and even the suit, if appropriate,  to wear for an interview. We also organise mentors for guests who have found a job or sustainable accommodation, to help in the first months and make sure things do not slip, and the guest find himself in trouble again.

 The most significant development for C4Ws  this season has been the establishment of a hosting scheme “Home from Home” whereby people have a guest to stay with them while for example, an ex-guest in work, but needing time to save for a deposit, can put most of his wages to that deposit; or an asylum seeker waiting for a decision. Taking these guests out of the shelter makes room for others who can receive the more intensive attention that shelter guests enjoy (which is not quite the word for what can be quite a gruelling experience; we have high expectations of our guests in order to achieve the best for them)

We are excited that Councillor Richard Cotton, this year's mayor of Camden, has chosen C4WS as his charity of the year.

Two years ago we received notice from the Housing Association lessee of a house which we owned in Camden Road. Initial consternation has been reversed as the house has been transformed into a endowment fund  of some £1.5m the income from which, entirely separate from C4WS, has to be  used for families in difficulties in Camden. We identified a need for after school care for families living in Camden’s temporary hostels. In these a family of four must share a room and communal bathroom and kitchen; a larger family has two rooms. The corridor is the only place for children to play.

Encouraged by Camden Council we started a new project CCF (CARIS Camden Families) which has taken over the basement of one hostel and turned it into a play and early learning area for small children who now run around, play with paint and glue and occasionally listen to a story, on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, while their mums natter in a side room nearby. Having started staffed entirely by volunteers and our own project manager, we now have two part time employees, one qualified which means that we can apply for OFSTED accreditation, and has also freed the manager to start another homework club in another hostel. This was intended for secondary children who find it hard to work in such cramped and (for homework) uncongenial conditions, but the take up has in fact been from primary school children who also have a surprising amount of homework, much off which assumes a parent fluent in English to help. This is often not available and we have another team of volunteers from local businesses who help with reading, writing and maths.

 The Parish does not give financial support to CCF (it does not yet need financial help) but you will I hope have been interested to read of this development. I am very grateful, on behalf of C4WS for all the help the Parish gives to that project.

CARIS Haringey thank us for the generous gifts of food, toiletries, toys and nappies (specially nappies!) and hope to have an update for us later in the year.

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