When Malachi Justin sent a letter to The Salvation Army at just five years old, little did he know that it would inspire the groundbreaking campaign to create a modern hostel for people experiencing homelessness in Ilford, East London.
Malachi donated the £5 the tooth fairy gave him for his first tooth to The Salvation Army with a note asking the church to use the money to buy a home because everyone deserves a roof over their heads.
“Dear Salvation Army – I pray you get money to buy houses for everybody. I have £5 from the tooth fairy. Please use it to buy a home. I hope you have a good day. God bless you, Love Malachi.”
£5 grows to £5 million
Malachi’s donation spurred The Salvation Army in Ilford into action. Local fundraising and charitable trusts bumped up the amount to £350,000. The Salvation Army provided additional funding to round out the amount to £2.5 million. Redbridge Council added a further £2.5 million to cover construction and provided the land free of charge.
Commenting on the birth of Project Malachi, Captain Dr. John Clifton, the church’s leader in Ilford, said, “Malachi’s donation and note really challenged us to do more for the people forced to sleep rough in Ilford. For many years we have offered emergency shelter to Ilford’s street community and while we could offer food and shelter we knew it wasn’t enough … People end up sleeping rough for lots of complex reasons and it could be anything from job loss or poor health to addiction. Malachi gave us the focus to think about how we could build homes and provide support to get residents back to independent living.”
42 lives changed
It took five years for Project Malachi to become Malachi Place. Finally the pioneering homeless complex with its 42 self-contained flats opened its doors on Monday the 24th of February and welcomed the first few residents.
Ten-year-old Malachi was delighted to attend the soft opening, saying:
“I can’t believe this has actually happened and we have built a home for the homeless! I’m really happy that The Salvation Army used my money to do this. No one should have to sleep on the streets. Everyone should have a home. I’m still only ten but I know that homelessness is getting worse but this shows there is something we can all do to help.”
Malachi is not wrong about homelessness getting worse. Statistics show that over the last decade rough sleeping has increased by 165% nationally.
Captain Dr. John Clifton said, “It is our ambition to see it [Malachi Place] replicated in other parts of the country. If Malachi can start this from just £5, others can follow his path.”
The leader of Redbridge Council, Councillor Jas Athwal, said, “It is fantastic that Malachi Place is now up and running – a ground-breaking joint initiative to help tackle homelessness for those with no recourse to public funds.”
He continued, “It is so rewarding to see how an idea that we first put forward six years ago at a council committee meeting has finally reached fruition. I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who has played a part in helping make this vision become a reality. There is absolutely no reason why people in modern society should be faced with the prospect of sleeping rough. That is why we will continue our efforts to eliminate rough sleeping in the London borough of Redbridge.”
Only a few residents have currently moved in, but The Salvation Army expects full capacity in time for the grand opening on the 14th of March.
Wahidur Rahman was one of first residents to move from the night shelter to the new mini-suite of rooms. When Malachi welcomed him, he thanked the youngster for being the inspiration behind the housing complex.
Another new resident, recovering addict Frank Wrona, said, “It’s happy days – it will be amazing to have my own keys and I can come and go as I please …I just want to get settled and move on with my life so getting a room at Malachi Place gets me one step closer to achieving that.”
More than a room
In addition to year-round accommodation, Malachi Place offers specialist 24-hour on-site support that helps residents come to terms with issues that include domestic violence, childhood trauma, relationship breakdown, and mental ill health.
In addition, the ground floor will house a bicycle workshop where residents can work and learn skills to help them land and keep jobs.
The flats are kitted out for modest comfort with Allchurches Trust providing the funds to fit-out and furnish the rooms. As a house-warming gift, Allchurches Trust is providing each resident with a welcome hamper that includes a mug, tea, and biscuits.
Taking the fight further
The Salvation Army and Redbridge Council are keen to tackle homelessness on several fronts. For example, the church has urged the government to publish its updated Rough Sleeping Strategy, including clarification of its plans to meet its target of ending rough sleeping by the end of the current Parliament.
The church would like the government to increase the value of local housing allowance rates to cover the costs of at least three in ten of the most affordable properties in any given area.
Furthermore, it would like additional investment in supported housing so that people have access to the kind of help that will enable them to deal with the problems that led to their sleeping rough.
In 2018, Redbridge Council launched its Redbridge Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Strategy (2018 – 2023), which proposes a holistic approach to defeat homelessness and to prevent homelessness from occurring in the first place. The council has already put some steps into action, including the investment of £103.3 million to deliver new council homes and the purchase of 300 homes to the tune of £70 million so that there are more options than just privately rented accommodation.
The council has also spent millions of pounds on temporary local accommodation which allows families facing homelessness to remain in the vicinity of their work, schools, and networks.
You can help Redbridge Council and The Salvation Army in their fight against homelessness by donating money, time, or even your skills to various projects and initiatives.