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Crisis Homeless Charity Celebrates 40th Anniversary

The Archbishop at the reception for Crisis

Tuesday 22nd April 2008

The charity Crisis aims to fight homelessness and empower people to fulfil their potential and transform their lives.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, and HRH Princess Alexandra are patrons of the charity, and held a reception at Lambeth Palace to celebrate 40 years of success.

HRH Princess Alexandra and guestsSince opening its doors in the 70s, Crisis has expanded with schemes such as FareShare, a food redistribution scheme; SmartMove, helping homeless people with rented accommodation; Skylight, a learning activity centre; Skylight Cafe, providing training opportunites and Learning Zone, where homeless people can gain accredited qualifications.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Jane Williams and HRH Princess Alexandra warmly welcomed guests at the reception, who included those who were homeless and have successfully reshaped their lives.

Sir David BellSir David Bell, Crisis Chairman, said, "The truest definition of Crisis is a diverse group of people who come together because of a common desire to make a difference, working alongside homeless people to empower them to rebuild their lives........more than 230 people received Crisis Changing Lives awards, allowing them to fund the next stage of their progression to get back to work or into self employment....250 Crisis members gained accredited qualifications from the Learning Zone.... nearly 7,000 people last year received housing advice thanks to our work with local partners through our SmartMove scheme....over our 40 years, Crisis would have achieved nothing without people like you".

Dr Williams expressed how close the charity is to his heart, as he himself was once a volunteer for the charity. 

Read a transcript of his words below, or click link on the right to listen [7Mb]

Archbishop's address at Crisis anniversary

Your Royal Highness, my Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen.

It's a very great delight for my wife Jane and myself to be able to welcome you to our home on this very special anniversary for Crisis.

And we're particularly pleased to have you with us, Your Royal Highness, this evening. I know the huge support that you have given to the charity over I think twenty years or more as patron. So I think I speak for all of us and say how very delighted we are that you have been able to honour us with your presence tonight.

As one of the Vice-Presidents of Crisis, I'm delighted to be able to add my own endorsement and my own applause for the extraordinary work that's been done over these decades by Crisis.

It was my predecessor, Michael Ramsey who, in 1969, led a pilgrimage from Canterbury to London to highlight the plight of the homeless and to give a voice at that point on behalf of the church in support of what was then a very young and rather struggling and not terribly fully organised charity tackling a colossal problem in all our towns and cities.

The choice of name CRISIS was in itself perceptive. It simply reinforced the urgency of the issue for people throughout the country. It was, I think, in the middle-to-late seventies that I had my first contact with Crisis as a volunteer. And various people have been asking me, "Where was it that year?" and I can't remember! I can only remember a large warehouse, mounds of stuff and a very, very hectic day or two! But from my years as a student, I'd had, for a number of reasons, a very keen appreciation of, awareness of, the issues of homelessness in some of our cities. And so for me it was something of a privilege really to be able to be part of Crisis at that point and I would say exactly the same today, it's still a privilege to be involved with work which is I suppose on the front line in all kinds of ways, dealing with one of those issues which a great many people in our society sadly are still all too ready to forget. Ready to forget because of course it's not just a single problem that we're talking about. Homelessness carries with it any number of subsidiary issues. It carries with it that loss of a sense of dignity and identity which drives people into downward spirals. And without the company of trustworthy people around, then that spiral's intensified. It's not just the raw physical experience of vulnerability, of cold and hunger; it's also that sense of exclusion and that sense of lasting stigma which affects so many people. And so in tackling homelessness Crisis is of course tackling a range of issues. And it's doing that, not just by meeting an immediate need, not just by doing ambulance work, but by trying to build capacity -as we're supposed to say these days - to equip people, to regain control of their lives, to reintegrate into family, friendship, community, even employment.

Crisis is best known for Crisis Open Christmas which was first established in 1971, as I've said before, my first contact with this organisation. At the time it was a hugely bold, innovative and imaginative project, not only highlighting the circumstances of homeless people at a comfortable season of the year but quite simply providing the emergency assistance needed so desperately, so much more intensively at that time for homeless people. But among many other achievements Crisis can point to its food redistribution scheme, FareShare. It can point to the provision of deposit guarantees for single homeless people to secure rented accommodation through the Crisis SmartMove. It can point to the Skylight activity centre and Café, opened in 2000.

All of it which would have been impossible without the determination and commitment of the team of staff, and importantly, of volunteers among whom I am very proud to have that very tiny part some years ago. But amongst the supporters of Crisis today are all kinds of people – doctors, builders, taxi drivers, accountants, who share their expertise, their resource, with the work of the charity.

But I also want to mention not only individuals but companies who have made a serious contribution to the work of Crisis and helped it to develop.

There are volunteers involved today who themselves have been the beneficiaries of the help of Crisis, who have, if you like, shown the effectiveness of Crisis' work by exercising the skill, the capacity, that they have rediscovered through the help and solidarity of Crisis. And that's perhaps one of the most vivid and important testimonies to the success of the Charity.

Any network that really rebuilds lives in such a way that people are once again given the ability to give is working. And if I were asked my own acid test of when a charity is really working it would be that. Does it give people the capacity to give in turn? To have that dignity of being benefactors to others in all sorts of contexts.

I have been privileged to see a bit for myself of the work done by the charity. And among the many things that are enlightening as you see this is to get some sense of the sheer range of the human beings affected by homelessness. Ex-offenders we know about, members of the armed forces we perhaps know rather less about. I was having a conversation just now about the extraordinarily high proportion of ex-service people, young people, who are now caught up in these problems. And it's important that we don't just imagine that homelessness afflicts one kind of person. I guess that every charity, every network, every association working with and for the homeless has that as part of it's mission to try and remind people that homelessness is not something which afflicts stereotypes – it afflicts human beings in all their variety, never mind class, racial origin or anything else. But within that context, Crisis has, over these four decades of its life, transformed many lives, restored many peoples dignity, opened new horizons. I'm very, very proud and grateful to be associated with it and I wish Crisis many, many years of work...or rather I would do that, I would do that, if I'd not also want to wish that our society would grasp the nettle of homelessness in ways that would make Crisis happily redundant! So my congratulations on all you've achieved, my prayers and blessings on what lies ahead, and once again my warmest welcome to Lambeth Palace this evening to all of you. Thank you.

++ Rowan

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