Lost and Found - Spiritual Service

What is the place of spirituality in Homelessness Service Provision? In this blog series, I’ll be looking at spirituality and faith. Is it something that homelessness services address, and should it?

In the last blog, I discussed a series of interviews on spirituality and faith, involving people who are homeless or vulnerable, as part of the study ‘Lost and Found’ on the intersection of homelessness services and faith by Carwyn Gravell. The results of the interviews were overwhelmingly positive, and those who were interviewed came up with a number of ideas for making spirituality part of the services offered. In this blog, I’ll consider the merits of these ideas and whether a service model can be built on them.

Gravell suggests a model which helps to identify service users who have religious beliefs or spiritual inclinations and provide them with opportunities to practice their faith or discuss spiritual matters with others. The model begins with a ‘life interview’, offered to service users who want to discuss various aspects of their lives. Gravell notes that when people begin using service providers, they are often facing a crisis that needs to be addressed practically, so concerns about health, benefits and living situation need to be considered first. But once the person has reached a level of stability, and trust between service user and provider has been fostered, a life interview can be beneficial. A life interview would include the topics discussed in the previous blog post, such as perceptions of self and others, past and present situation, and spiritual identity.

In the interviews conducted in the study, no specific training was required, and both service providers and volunteers were used to conduct the interviews. However, Gravell suggests that interviewers practice the interviews on each other to become familiar with the questions. Another suggestion is that line managers should be available for a ‘de-brief’ session, for if difficult subjects, such as past abuse, come up during the interview.

The next step would be to record the pertinent information into a support plan. This would include the person’s social and emotional aspirations, as well as opportunities for exploring their faith. These opportunities could include linking the person with worship and faith groups with which they can identify. Since most of the people interviewed who professed faith didn’t regularly attend worship services, but those who did found it a positive experience, finding local faith groups that they could become a part of could be very beneficial. One-to-one sessions with religious leaders or staff members could be organised. Chaplains are rarely found in homelessness service settings; because of this, religious representatives could be invited to visit and offer guidance or discussion for service users who are interested. People with a particular faith could also be paired up with workers of a similar faith.

For those who are spiritually inclined but not necessarily members of a particular religion, they could be given the opportunity of consulting resources with information about spirituality, including religious texts and religious talks in various media. Another suggestion is the possibility of spiritual discussion groups. This would provide an opportunity for interaction with others, which wouldn’t be possible with completely independent study. Such a discussion group should appeal to people of all faiths and none, and this could be done by planning a range of activities and subjects. The group could be structured or free ranging, depending on what best facilitates discussion within the particular group.

All of these suggestions are fairly moderate and do not require specific training on the part of staff. They can be applied in any support setting and can be appreciated by those interested in spirituality and faith while not imposing on people who are not. At New Hope, service users are allowed to raise the subject of spirituality and faith with staff. We are also connected to a number of local Churches and faith groups, meaning that we can facilitate the exploration of faith by the people we support. There is a fortnightly poetry discussion group that acts as a springboard for more wide ranging subjects, and it is not hard to imagine the issue of spirituality being raised.

During the festive season, we traditionally give each other material gifts, but the most important gifts we can give are not physical, they are the gifts of acceptance, forgiveness, and compassion. Fundamentally, faith assures us that all of these are available, even when they seem very distant. If we can give the gift of spiritual consolation without alienating others, then we should look for opportunities to do so, while learning from our sometimes imperfect attempts.

Alex Charlton