FORMER WEBBER STREET-BASED MISSIONARY NEIL TOOMEY IS BACK WITH LONDON CITY MISSION, THIS TIME AS A FIELD DIRECTOR WITH RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE DAY CENTRE. HE TALKS TO KENWYN PIERCE ABOUT THE OPPORTUNITIES AHEAD
Neil Toomey is our Field Director with a specialist focus on homeless and marginalised ministry. He joined LCM at the beginning of last year. He has a wealth of experience in the areas of homelessness, ex-offenders and prison ministry, and supporting those with addictions. Neil has worked as a Young Offender Mentor, Housing Support Officer, and was recently responsible for spearheading and managing the Night Shelter and other projects at Derby City Mission. Neil knows London City Mission well. In 2002 he became an LCM Missionary based at Webber Street.
“The homeless community is certainly going to change after Covid. We anticipate fewer rough sleepers and more people living in hostels or temporary accommodation. We are considering now how the day centre will work for people who are in poor quality housing. “It’s great to come back to Webber Street and for the whole team to be on board with a vision to empower people to move forward in their lives. We are hoping to bring the best of what see in secular services together with a gospel-centred response.
“At Webber Street, we’re very good at ministering to people and sharing the gospel, loving the guests, spending time with them, and listening to them. We know that even with the best intentions support can have longterm negative effects if things are free and if help encourages dependence rather than empowering people. “We want to ensure that, at the same time, we are supporting them in moving forward in their lives. “At Webber Street, we are looking at how we create a culture in which we are helping people move forward, not just into stable housing, also into a better quality of life and more independence. “We can lovingly challenge people, making it clear that we’re here to help, and there are things they can do to help themselves. Men especially need and appreciate a bit of a challenge, otherwise it is easy to slip into a victim mentality. “As someone who’s been homeless myself, people spoke to me like that, and I responded to their challenge: what could I do to help myself in my situation? I realised that I did need help, but I also needed to grow and face some responsibilities.
THE JESUS ELEMENT
“The gospel has a profound part in this too. No matter your situation, it is empowering to discover just how much God loves you. It does make you want to be better. There is great power in people understanding grace, that God loves them for who they are. When that penny drops, you can see God working in people’s lives. “When you read the Bible – whatever your situation or stage in life – if you’re not challenged by Jesus’ life, then you’re not reading it right. It is part of human nature to try and get away with much as we can. I can’t shy away from lovingly challenging people who are coming from broken lives. “I approach people who are homeless or who have been kicked about in life, being reminded that we are all made in God’s image. We’re all the same. Some people might be in a different place to where I’m at, but we’re all human. We all have difficulties, and what God has overcome in my life he can help overcome in others’ lives too.
COME TO CHURCH
“Church has a huge role to play in this of course. We find that people who are homeless, even though they might love Jesus, struggle with church because church is thought to be where people go when they’ve got their lives together, everybody’s perfect and doing ok. “In the gospels we read that the people who streamed to Jesus were broken and poor and sick. Now it looks like the people with Jesus are the ones who have got everything together. “I think churches might find ways to be more open about what we struggle with, to foster a culture of honesty. Saying, ‘it’s okay to be broken, it’s okay to struggle’. We need to get our culture right so that we can welcome in people who are damaged by life, and find healing.”