(Vatican Radio) In his address to Catholic charities, MPs and supporters at the annual Caritas Social Action Network parliamentary reception, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, focused on the soaring number of homeless people in England and, in particular, the rise in what he termed 'hidden homelessness.' Official figures have revealed that the number of people sleeping rough in England has doubled since 2010 and rose by 30 percent in the last year alone. An estimated 3,569 people sleep on the streets on any one night according to these figures.
Cardinal Nichols described the hidden homeless as "under the radar," saying these are people who may have a job but are sleeping on sofas or spare rooms or in Bed and Breakfast accommodation. Young people in this position may stay with a different friend each night or go to all-night parties to avoid sleeping on the street.
Homelessness charities called the figures "scandalous" and "shocking" and have written to the Prime Minster to urge a new strategy to tackle the issue.
The Cardinal stressed that prevention must be the key priority:
"Family relationship breakdown is a leading contributor to homelessness among single men, and a leading cause of family breakdown is financial difficulty. Then there is the scourge of drug and alcohol addiction. And of course, those without suitable accommodation upon release from prison are the most likely to find themselves on the streets, back in its vicious cycle."
He also commended the contribution of Catholic charities and parishes:
"All over England and Wales, parishes and Charities offer a range of support to people who are homeless: from extensive skills training, counselling, hostels and move-on accommodation, to simply offering a hot meal and clothing to those with nowhere else to turn. Indeed, in Westminster Diocese we calculate that in our parishes over 4 million hours of volunteers’ time are given every year."
Cardinal Nichols also stated that the Church stood ready to engage in greater partnership with government, central and local, in order to truly serve the common good - the good that omits nobody.
Finally, the Cardinal spoke about the link between imprisonment and homelessness referencing an "urgent crisis" in prisons in England and Wales with escalating levels of violence, suicide, self-harm and assaults on staff.
Reaffirming his call for prison reform, Cardinal Nichols concluded by launching a new Bishops' Conference document on the subject:
"I am delighted to launch our latest document on prison reform. It is called 'The Right Road'. Drawing on expertise from Catholic charities, chaplains and experts working in this field, it makes recommendations for reform, giving the Church a clear voice in this important work.”