Patrick Milner explores the philosophy of the Cardinal Basil Hume Centre in Westminster
The Cardinal Basil Hume Centre is located at the heart of Westminster and was founded by Cardinal Basil Hume in 1986 as a direct response to the high numbers of young people sleeping on the streets of London, and families living in inadequate bed and breakfast accommodation. Our founding services were, therefore: a hostel for young people, a family support service and a medical surgery; these services continue to this day. Over the years, however, we have opened our doors to welcome individuals of all ages, and have developed a suite of services to respond to a wide range of needs.
- Income: We offer advice on employment for jobseekers and money management skills.
- Housing: We offer hostel accommodation to homeless young people (16 – 24 year olds) and housing advice and advocacy.
- Education: Our learning services aim to improve employment opportunities and inclusion in society. We offer English language and literacy, IT training, work experience, early years learning and parenting classes.
- Legal Status: We offer accredited immigration advice and advocacy.
We focus on the individual, which encourages us to recognize that each human being is different and has complex needs, and so our response has to be multi-layered. As many of you will know, Cardinal Basil Hume, our founder, was a Benedictine monk and the Centre draws on the Benedictine tradition, looking to welcome ‘as Christ’ each person who comes to the Centre, providing sanctuary and hospitality to people from all backgrounds. We believe that each person is created in the image of God, and is therefore valuable and precious, and with a right to the fullness of life. In the words of Cardinal Hume, ‘Each person matters; no human life is redundant’. The Centre, inspired by Catholic Social Teaching, puts the gospel message into action by both reaching out and giving practical help to those people in the greatest social, economic and personal need.
Cardinal Hume also spoke about the fundamental importance of each person having a home: “In the home is where we learn to be compassionate; to be concerned for the old, concerned for the sick, concerned for the poor, the marginal.” It’s an idea worth exploring.
On 30 October 2015, John Bird, the founder of the Big Issue and lifelong campaigner for the homeless, was created Baron Bird, of Notting Hill in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. How about that for a sentence! The irony of becoming a member of the HOUSE of Lords having been HOMEless, is worth dwelling on, as is the fact that the words house and home are different. We talk of homelessness, not houselessness. There is a difference, and that difference speaks volumes about the challenges faced by those who sleep rough. More often than not, they need much, much more than a bed for the night.
I mention John Bird because a while ago he starred in a two part programme called Famous, Rich and Homeless (BBC1). Some of you may have seen it. The simple, if slightly questionable concept was to place four celebrities on the streets and see how they coped, in an attempt to both raise awareness and to raise money for Sport Relief. It aimed to show how short a plummet it is for most of us to the pavement. “Millions of Britons,” we heard, “are just three payslips from losing their homes.” It partly explains why, in recent times, homelessness has risen by 590 per cent, according to some estimates.
It is fair to say that some of the celebrities struggled. Who wouldn’t? But the most striking thing about the programme was their reaction to the help and the warmth with which they were greeted by others sleeping on the streets, and the indifference of those who more often than not walked on by. ‘I’m far too busy. I’m already late. It’s their own fault. I help in other ways.’
It’s all too convenient to segregate the two realities of faith and poverty, of the cross and the pavement. As I write this article, 8 March has just passed: the commemoration (in the Anglican liturgical calendar) of G A Studdert Kennedy, an Anglican priest and poet who served in the First World War and who wrote a great deal about the struggles of ordinary people. His powerful poem called Indifference presents each of us with a challenge.
When Jesus came to Golgotha, they hanged Him on a tree,
They drove great nails through hands and feet, and made a Calvary;
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns, red were His wounds and deep,
For those were crude and cruel days, and human flesh was cheap.
When Jesus came to Birmingham, they simply passed Him by.
They would not hurt a hair of Him, they only let Him die;
For men had grown more tender, and they would not give Him pain,
They only just passed down the street, and left Him in the rain.
Still Jesus cried, ‘Forgive them, for they know not what they do,’
And still it rained the winter rain that drenched Him through and through;
The crowds went home and left the streets without a soul to see,
And Jesus crouched against a wall, and cried for Calvary.
G A Studdert Kennedy
Patrick Milner is a Trustee of the Basil Hume Centre