Barnet and Whetstone Press
31st March, 2010
View original Article on the Barnet and Whetstone Press website.
FOR THE past five years, Pastor Alexi Gyasi and his congregation at the Highway of Holiness church in Tottenham, north London, have been carving out a unique ministry – working with the homeless.
When the recession hit and the construction industry collapsed, eastern European men who had come to Haringey in search of work instead faced destitution and a miserable life struggling on the streets.Penniless, unable to speak fluent English and stranded thousands of miles from home, the migrants were among the hardest hit when the industry caved in and job openings for labourers, plasterers and tilers literally vanished overnight.
It was only when outreach workers from an African church in Tottenham started to speak to these men, forced into sleeping rough on the streets of Haringey, they realised there was a huge opportunity to help lift them out of their plight. Now Reverend Alex Gyasi, of the Highway Of Holiness Church in Fountayne Road, has gone from cooking up a hot meal or two last summer to providing a sympathetic ear and space for 35 men sleep every night – as well as all the tools necessary to help them find work and place them firmly back on the road to recovery.
Reverend Gyasi said the work had been his “most challenging but most exciting” to date.
“These two men knocked on the church’s door one Monday, came in and told me about their problems,” he told the Advertiser.
“They were basically destitute with nowhere to sleep, no clothing and nowhere to have a bath or shower. We started by giving them something to eat, which was their most immediate need.
After about a week they explained they were unable to go and look for a job because of the way they looked and smelled. The nearest place to get a shower if you’re homeless is London Bridge and they just didn’t have the means to get there.
So we decided to take out one of our toilets and turn it into a shower which they could use. They came out glowing – it really improved their self-esteem and confidence and made us realise the small things can make such a big difference.”
As temperatures plunged, Reverend Gyasi realised he needed to do more, so offered the church as a place to bed down for a couple of nights a week. This soon became five, then six, then seven nights a week.
He said: “They take their showers here and we also have recreational activities during the day such as table tennis, pool, TV and we also have free internet access. We teach them English on Mondays too and Haringey Advisory Group On Alcohol comes in on Wednesdays.
“Although not all, a lot of the men have problems with alcohol dependency and huge health issues too. Some of them have been homeless for only a few months but others have slept rough for three or four years.
We need to get them off alcohol and give them a chance of finding a job. Our feeling was that we needed to give a full provision of help to really address their problems.”
Most of the men are Polish but others are from Latvia, Romania, Lithuania and the Czech Republic and the church also currently helps one woman – between 30 to 35 people in total.
Haringey Council recently organised a day for representatives from the Housing Service, NHS, Haringey Citizens’ Advice Bureau, homelessness charity Thames Reach and Alcoholics Anonymous to visit the church and help the men tap into crucial services they may otherwise not know about.
Councillor Kaushika Amin, cabinet member for community cohesion and involvement, paid tribute to the church’s work, saying it had become an “invaluable source of support” to the homeless in Tottenham.
For Reverend Gyasi and those who have helped him help the men, the work has been a crucial reminder of how the most vulnerable in society can easily be overlooked.
“This has been rewarding – more than rewarding – for us,” he said.
“We have seen some really drastic changes and some changes which are painfully slow. But five or six of these men have now found jobs. They are working during the day and sleeping here which will continue until they earn some more money.
“There have been some truly beautiful transformations. You just think, wow.”
Anyone able to donate funds, food, clothing or who has a suitable property to help sleep the men should contact Highway House on 020 8808 4444, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.highwayhouse.co.uk