About four years ago, Michelle found herself without a home, without support from the local council, and in danger of her two children being taken into care.

She didn’t know where to turn until someone put her in touch with Hope into Action, a Christian charity that provides homes for vulnerable people.

A month later she moved into one of their houses in Peterborough. ‘I thank God and I thank Hope into Action for being there when I needed them,’ says Michelle. ‘If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t have my kids; I probably wouldn’t be here right now.’

Peterborough Citadel is also part of Michelle’s story. The corps is a Hope into Action partner church, providing volunteers who come alongside her with emotional support and practical help on a day-to-day basis.

Karen Hobbs, who has attended Peterborough Citadel for 25 years, is Michelle’s mentor, walking her through the nitty-gritty, ups and downs of life. Michelle feels that meeting Karen has been one of the best things about her two years as a tenant: ‘She’s supported me a lot, emotionally too, helping me with family problems. We see each other about once a week; she takes me shopping or we’ll go for a coffee. She’s like an adopted mother.’

Karen has been a mentor to a number of tenants over a period of eight years, providing a listening ear, helping steer them in the right direction, showing ‘tough love’ when necessary, praying for them and helping to meet daily practical needs.

‘It’s not a job,’ says Karen, ‘it’s more of a passion; it’s what I want to do. I have a heart for people struggling with homelessness. When I see someone sleeping rough it hurts. Being a mentor is an opportunity to put my faith into action.

‘Life is not easy for people in the benefit system; there are things that are against them right from the start. Some don’t have family relationships to fall back on and as a mentor you’re someone they can call on for help, a shoulder to cry on, a friend, a port in the storm.’

Peterborough Citadel became a partner church when the charity’s founder Ed Walker visited the corps in 2011. He spoke about his vision to see the Church at the forefront of leading the fight against homelessness, to engage Christians in a meaningful and relational way to people who find themselves in a vulnerable position and to share their wealth with the poor.

On the charity’s website Ed describes how he met a man in a playground who had left prison that morning, with nowhere to go. No hostels would take him. He was either too old or they didn’t take ex-offenders.

‘As I looked around,’ he continues, ‘I saw half a dozen churches within a kilometre of where I was standing. I thought about the skills and talents of the people in all those churches: “If only I could get these people together, we could give people like this a home”. And that is how Hope into Action began.’

Hope Into Action Marketing Administrator Morgan Hobbs – also a member of Peterborough Citadel – told Salvationist that since Ed bought the first house in Peterborough in 2010, the charity has opened 70 homes in 22 cities, including 17 homes in the Peterborough. ‘Churches find out about our work mainly through word of mouth or when Ed gives talks at churches or Christian events. This year more than 300 people attended our conference, including investors, partners, tenants, empowerment workers and volunteers’.

Partnerships with the charity include churches from different denominations that provide volunteers who befriend tenants, and investors who buy houses.

Investors might be single donors who have finance they would like to put to good social use, or several investors who come together from a church or a number of churches. Churches sometimes also undertake to refurbish a property. (They don’t help with refurbishment they might help add homely touches or do some gardening etc)

Hope into Action supports partners in sourcing houses and managing refurbishments, as well as handling tenancies, benefits and rent collection and providing professional support. This, they feel, enables churches to concentrate of what they do best – prayer, mentoring and discipleship.

Throughout the year there are training days to equip volunteers on issues such as drug awareness, safety training and mental health to help. Mentors meet regularly with Hope into Action empowerment workers to talk about any issues.

Peterborough Citadel corps officer Major Lorraine Chaundy feels that The Salvation Army’s value of heart to God and hand to humankind dovetails very closely with Hope into Action values, and encourages other corps to consider becoming partner churches: ‘We don’t have to be everything to everyone; we can work with people who have resources to do the same thing. It’s wonderful to be able to house people. I’ve been in corps where we’ve given out food parcels, bought shoes, charged phones, provided a listening ear or offered shower facilities. You can’t underestimate the value of these, but to be able to offer a home through Hope into Action is wonderful.

‘In Peterborough there isn’t a Lifehouse. We feel we must do something to help house people struggling with homelessness, and this is what we’re doing. As a partner church we can go much further than the corps arms could reach.’

Karen Hobbs feels that The Salvation Army is also in a unique position to help Hope into Action tenants through its volunteering opportunities. ‘The Army has avenues of employment that can help people get back on their feet. Tenants who can’t get jobs straight away can get experience volunteering for the Army, for example, in kitchens, with the elderly or in charity shops – avenues where they can be part of a community and feel valued again.’

When speaking about the partnership, Lorraine was reminded of the illustration of a lighthouse in William Booth’s In Darkest England, And The Way Out, with the words ‘Hope For All’ over it.

‘This partnership is about saving people from despair, starvation, poverty and crime; about pulling people from their dark places and giving them hope. I really would recommend that corps look into what Hope into Action is doing, to find out how they can be a part. 

If you enjoyed reading this, then have a look at Levi's story of receiving and giving love in his church community here. 

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