The Connection at St Martin-in-the-Fields’s is a homelessness charity in the heart of London, next to St Martin-in-the-Fields church in Trafalgar Square;they provide an inclusive and accessible service to every age group, nationality and religion in need. Homelessness in UK has tripled in recent years, on any one night official estimates show almost 5,000 people are sleeping rough in England, an estimated 80,000 meet the statutory definition of homelessness plus an unknown quantity of the “hidden homeless” due to mental health issues, drug/alcohol/gambling problems, ex-military personnel who find the transition to civilian life difficult or ex-offenders who cannot break bad habits.
The Connection has been helping the homeless since WWI, when in 1917, the Vicar opened his doors to soldiers to stay in the church crypt when going to and from Charing Cross Station, the main hub for getting to and from the trenches. For over a century, The Connection have been welcoming people with nowhere else to turn, the tradition of offering soup and a place to sleep continues on a C21st scale. The Connection provide day and night services to approximately 4,000 homeless people when their life has gone profoundly wrong and they are left isolated and in despair, 65 places in the night shelter are still available. The Connection do not walk away from people when they don’t evidence progressive outcomes, their patience and compassion is limitless.
The canteen offers three proper meals a day at a minimum or no cost, showers and a laundry run by volunteers are available; also a weekly schedule of computer training and development, counselling and anger management sessions, mindfulness sessions, a support group for gamblers and for women, a spiritual space for all, a film club, practical gardening sessions, a poetry group and an art room with arguably the best view in London are all part of the service.
This reporter’s tour of the facilities by members of staff confirmed that the Connection’s experience in crisis intervention, supplying food, shelter, hygiene and healthcare have enabled vulnerable people to recover from homelessness and lead independent lives.
The Royal Academy of Arts(RA) in Piccadilly have an admirable creative outreach with community organisations for adults experiencing homelessness. The RA art workshops involve 2,700 participants per annum, without the RA these individuals may face considerable barriers to being involved in the arts. In the current exhibition ‘Art is Part of the Equation’ in the RA’s Clore Learning Centre fourteen different community organisations, including The Connection,show artwork has been inspired and supported by collaboration with the RA. The art talks and workshop connect desperately marginalised people, allowing them an authentic voice to share their personal experiences and to feel valued, better empowering them to take control of their lives.