On this strange day of extreme weather – bright sunshine/hailstones alternating, at least in Woking – I have met some brilliant people with an extreme response to homelessness.
Pastor Pete (a dead ringer for Santa) says his family had always taken in people who were in dire straits throughout his many years as a pastor (he says this as if it’s normal and everyone does it). So when he moved to Southport, aged 57, it was no surprise that he was moved to practical action when confronted by the rough sleepers living under the pier and on the golf course. He and his wife converted their garage into a small flat where 3 people could sleep. They bought a caravan to house another four, and invited their new friends to take over their spare rooms. They overflowed onto the church floor. It was messy but it seemed to be working.
But the environmental officer from the local council was less than impressed with their health and safety standards and said it had to stop.
So then their friendly local council Chief Exec invited them in to talk about bidding for some European funding for regeneration which would benefit those who were homeless. Pastor Pete and his crew helped them out and the council won £9m, £900,000 of which was earmarked for homeless services. But somehow none of the money ended up benefiting the ‘roofless’ contingent – the ones most in need of help.
Pastor Pete was discouraged and was blunt with God. Then one morning soon after, he and some friends were meeting for their daily prayer and Bible study, and read the story of the Good Samaritan. Pastor Pete was struck for the first time by the fact that the Samaritan took complete responsibility for someone he barely knew. He felt that God was saying to him “I never asked you to go and beg from the government. I’m asking you to take responsibility.”
Pastor Pete had saved £6000 for a small pension. Another lady from the church mortgaged her house to release £24,000, and Pete’s son committed £100 a month from his wages. With that they bought a flat for some of the rough sleepers. And that was where it all started.
Today they own properties across Southport and around the UK, working with 29 partners and housing over 400 people. Long-term “rooflessness” no longer exists in Southport. They worked exclusively in Southport for five years and then someone from The Times wrote an article about them called ‘God’s Estate Agent’. From then on calls flooded in, as churches and charities wanted to meet them and find out more. Shortly after that, a prison chaplain from Stoke with a passion for helping support ex-offenders when they got out of jail asked Pete and his team if they’d buy them a couple of houses. So they did.
I find it totally overwhelming that these people are so bold, full of faith and generous with the little they have. How incredible that they just go around buying houses for projects who want to house the homeless (I should say that do it in a responsible way, and give a lot of relational support). And they’ve accrued some serious nouse. They have a sound financial model that makes them sustainable and means they’re not dependent on government. They invite people with money to invest it with them for a 5% return, which helps them raise house deposits. Then the mortgage is repaid through the housing benefit payments which the tenants or clients receive. (Their website probably explains it better).
I loved meeting Pastor Pete – he was brimming over with amazing stories, and had a string of brilliant quotations from “The Book” which clearly act as landing lights for him in all the challenges of working with people in chaotic circumstances. Although their name, Green Pastures (from psalm 23), wasn’t his idea. “I hate naming things,” he says. “When we had a shop we called it ‘shop’.”
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