There are various kinds of homelessness - sleeping on the streets, living in hostels, sharing a flat belonging to someone else. There are many factors which increase the risk of homelessness. Common among these are alcohol and drug abuse, mental health problems, learning difficulties, debts, relationship breakdown and lack of social support networks.

About five hundred people sleep outside around England on any one night and more than half of these are in the Greater London area. However there are about 380,000 single homeless people in Great Britain. This includes those staying in hostels, bed and breakfasts, squats and overcrowded accommodation. (Crisis: How many, how much? 2003)

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As Sisters of Mercy whose fourth vow is the service of those in need we are very aware of how vulnerable homeless people are. We work with homeless people teaching them reading, helping them with life skills, bringing them food, developing relationships with them as we accompany them on their journey. This journey can be towards claiming benefits or it can be in helping them to move towards supported or independent living. However for a variety of reasons, it can also end with the homeless person moving back to sleep on the streets. The most important aspect of our work with homeless people is the building of friendships. This tends to take longer with this group of people because their experience is of being constantly let down and they are often very slow to trust and to reveal their inner thoughts and feelings.

This year 2006 we are very excited about our new project "women@thewell "which will offer support to vulnerable women. It will be based near the Kings Cross area of London. Further details will be found on the website.

Work with the homeless people in our society would be very close to the heart of Catherine McAuley who said she would prefer to help a thousand imposters than send away one genuine person in need.

Photograph of homeless people in Highbury Convent garden