How do we handle our hearts with those who are homeless? If we live in cities or towns, it can become all too easy to blank out the same faces we see day after day. And the question nags at us: surely there’s more we can give than 50p here and there? Today, we’re looking into the more that’s possible.
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.” (James 2:14–18 NIV)
Green: Give to a local or national homeless charity.
Amber: Contact a homeless shelter and ask what they need. Then meet it.
Red: Invite a homeless person to your church, or to a local soup kitchen. Go along with them. If they need a lift, offer to give them one.
My history with the issue of homelessness
I’ll get this out of the way first: put people before the issue. People who happen to be homeless and not ‘the homeless’. Nothing irks me more. You’ll understand why after reading this (likely to be) lengthy blogpost.
Homelessness is an issue that I have had an interest in for 30 years now. As a student in London in 1988 it was a massive shock to see first hand the cardboard cities in Lincoln’s Inn fields and the bull ring under road underpasses. Men who were homeless looked ragged and worn and old. They wore scruffy layers of clothes, were unkempt, sometimes smelled and always had beards and uncut hair. It was a real slap of reality for a teenager from the north who had never seen or experienced such things. Reality hit hard. If you fail or stumble in the capital there is no one to break your fall – you hit rock bottom quickly.
I did my dissertation on homelessness amongst young single males. I volunteered with the Simon Community (now Simon on the Streets) for a few nights and joined them at the home for the men that no other shelter would accept (as they were addicts or had mental health issues) and on the soup runs – serving hot soup from polystyrene cups and tea. The van was always surrounded when we stopped and everyone was grateful and usually happy to chat for a few minutes. Some regulars were intrigued as to who the ‘new girl’ was volunteering. When they discovered I was writing a thesis they all wanted to share their stories. I was 21 years old listening to ex army vets with trauma who had turned to alcohol to cope; the divorcee who had nowhere to go; the young man from a broken home whose new step dad didn’t want him in the family home. On and on it went. Each a victim of circumstance. Each desperate to be understood. Each needing help that was being denied. Each being treated as lepers and social outcasts. It was heartbreaking. I really wanted to be able to do something about it but felt helpless.
I submitted my dissertation and it was one of only three that year that received top marks. I was pleased my hard work had been recognised but it was meaningless in the grand scheme of things. It didn’t change a thing.
I graduated in 1991 in the middle of a recession. It took until 1992 to get a job in an accountancy practice that specialised in insolvency. The only sector that was seemingly actively recruiting at the time. I was taking Norman Tebbit’s statement “Get in your bikes and look for work” and putting it into practice – I moved cities and left friends behind to start this new job. Then Tony Blair won the election and homelessness started to reduce as social welfare policies improved. I continued in my career and gave regularly (monthly) to various charities supporting people who were homeless.
I gave up on my dream of doing something practical in that sector. Every time I looked at job adverts they wanted experience or qualifications I did not have. I resigned myself to just being able to support such charities financially. Life carried on.
Then the Tories got re elected and austerity took its toll as the Government decided to spend billions bailing out failing (greedy) banks instead of investing it in the people. It would have been cheaper on the taxpayer if the Government had merely refunded everyone’s deposits and savings and let the bank fail – but that’s another story for another day. More and more people we’re finding themselves without somewhere to call home as a result. And I’m not just talking about those in tents or sleeping bags in doorways (who are woefully let down by social services and horribly abused by sadistic people); I’m also talking about sofa surfers, those in hostels, those in awful bedsits and bed and breakfasts. The ‘hidden’ people who are homeless. The clock has been turned back 30 years except now it was sleeping bags and tents instead of cardboard and blankets. It is a disgraceful state of this nation that this is happening. It makes me mad, angry, upset. I despair that people can be so unfeeling and uncaring that this is happening before our very eyes.
Then there’s ‘the church’s’ response. Social media is rife with criticism about churches not opening the doors of their empty buildings to help people who are homeless. It’s an obvious and evident Christian response. There are a whole host of issues with this of course (health and safety, facilities, costs etc) but the general public assume church buildings are all owned by the vast landowner called the Church of England. They do not understand different denominations. They don’t understand that the church is the people and not the building. They don’t see that it is the congregation’s sacrificial giving that fund such work. And actually – why should they? ‘Churches’ should be helping and obviously so.
I wrote yesterday about the fabulous work of Derby City Mission who, amongst many other things, run a winter night shelter. This opens churches, on rotation, around Derby City each evening. Volunteers staff the night shelter and provide dinner and breakfast too. It is a testament to the Christians in Derby that they are always overwhelmed with volunteers – all of which have to attend training sessions in advance of the night shelter opening. It is a lot of volunteer hours over the winter. It is a great demonstration of God’s love in a practical way.
I am a practical action person. Nothing infuriates me more when a Christian with seemingly endless resources choose not to donate, give time and offers to pray instead thinking that this is sufficient. Yes prayer is massively important- but that won’t feed the hungry or house the homeless. Even worse is when Christians and, in my personal experience, Christian leaders, refuse to give to street beggars because they believe they will be scammed or that homeless people will spend it on drugs. Well, some might. Most will not. Most want a hot meal and drink and enough money to pay for a night hostel. God has given us our money, who are we to refuse to help those who need it the most? I know I’m not being gracious here to other Christians and you’ll have to forgive me for that. It really does make my blood boil that Christians can be so hard hearted and lacking compassion. We might be the only Bible people read – what sort of Bible is that to read?!
What did I do?
So, today’s 40acts didn’t actually land in my inbox but I saw another blogger had already completed their act. I checked the 40acts FB page to read today’s challenge.
When I saw what it was my heart soared. It is my dream to be able to buy a house for someone who is homeless. I don’t think anything would make me happier. It’s not within my means right now but it is aspirational. I didn’t even know about Hope into Action and I am delighted I do now. A seed has been planted – let’s see how that grows.
I completed the green option as part of my generosity challenge yesterday and I really can’t afford to give anymore so that will have to suffice for today’s challenge too.
What it has enabled me to do is write this blogpost. As I proof read it I can see my passion resurfacing. Time to think about a new job or volunteering when I return to the UK? My skills might not be quite what they have in mind but they are useful nevertheless. We’ll have to see – time will tell.