Yesterday, I posted the following on my Facebook page: “Something that struck my SOH but also helped restore my faith in humanity … last night four Mormon missionaries volunteered and helped at the Street Spirit soup kitchen. Last week a family of four from the local mosque did the same. Maybe ideologically different yet united in their compassion for the homeless and vulnerable. Thank you.”
This received a number of responses, mostly positive and got me thinking what part religion and politics plays or should play (if any) when it comes to helping the homeless. I sympathise with one friend who said it ought to be none at all, since our focus should be responding to those seeking and needing human kindness, although I find what we believe often does influence what we do by way of a response. There was no doubt that our Mormon and Muslim friends made an important contribution and cheerfully worked alongside our disparate group of volunteers who were of all faiths and none and represented several points along the left – right political spectrum. It got me thinking back to when we began Street Spirit, for although some of us had strong religious and / or political views we decided on matters of religion and politics we would be neutral and when it comes to helping people their religion, politics etc. does not come into it and will try to treat guests with equal respect.
Over the years, I have been doing homeless activism, I have seen several fall outs and none as I recall have been about religion or politics and most were more to do with bruised egos and personality clashes. While it is true people do see things differently, the homeless are best served when the “end game” is about bringing homeless folk to a better place and showing compassion. It seems to me that people I have worked alongside represent a variety of religious and political views. While some of the voluntary organizations that help the homeless are born out of religious conviction, I have seen many examples of those who care little about religion going that needed extra mile in order to help the homeless. As for my religion and helping the homeless; the one follows from the other and is non negotiable e.g. Matthew 25:31:46. My view when it comes to giving hospitality is to follow the Benedictine model, which is to treat every homeless person you encounter as you would Christ himself, even though I do often read the Riot Act!
When it comes to politics, I have worked with those with views might be considered as far right as well as far left and would argue I am neither left nor right but try to take the best from both. Actually, I really don’t believe the left can claim the moral high ground either since I know several Conservative leaning folk who have truly gone out of their way to help the homeless, believing they and not government are responsible, and have stuck with it when things are hard as well as easy, although it is also true many leftists have also done much to help. Looking wider, it is true the Conservatives have a lot to answer for regarding the unintended consequences of welfare reform and a lack of vision when it comes to providing more affordable accommodation (true perhaps of Labour in the past too). Yet the passing of the Homeless Reduction Act and extra funding to help achieve this owes something to the Conservatives. When it comes to political leaders speaking about homelessness, Jeremy Corbyn has impressed me more than leaders of other parties by “getting it”. Sadly, when it came to “Off the Streets”, the all the year round night shelter, it seems that nimby beholden local Labour Councillors have caused damage by helping to derail the scheme, whereas the local Conservative MP has been supportive. Yet elements of the local Conservative led council have been pushing to move the homeless away from the town, without providing a satisfactory solution for their needs or, when turning down requests to operate a shelter, fail to offer an alternative venue.
As they say: “I am just saying”! And because politics is a messy business (although an unavoidable “evil”) I tend not to usually get too distracted by getting politically embroiled when it comes to homelessness. As for religion, today sees another season begun of Church Winter Night Shelters. Kudos to the churches for their part in carrying out this initiative, but also to their all faiths and none volunteer cohort that makes it all possible. As for me, I am happy to allow my religion and politics to inform and inspire my homeless activism, while at the same time I will gladly work alongside those who don’t share my views on these matters, providing they share my desire to win the end game and genuinely help the homeless.