Homelessness and Christmas

One of the articles that came my way today is titled: “At least 320,000 homeless people in Britain, says Shelter

It says “Charity says figure for England, Scotland and Wales is likely to be underestimate. At least 320,000 people are homeless in Britain, according to research by the housing charity Shelter. This amounts to a year-on-year increase of 13,000, a 4% rise, despite government pledges to tackle the crisis.” I don’t wish to make political points other than all recent governments have failed to address the problem. At least by passing the Homeless Reduction Act and making money available to local councils, including my own, this government has done something, and the iniquity of street homelessness was clearly evident under the previous government. The other disturbing fact reiterated elsewhere in another report today is the increase in homeless related deaths. One report reveals “554 homeless people have died in the UK since last winter“.

When I started my first night shelter of the 2018/19 season two weeks ago, it was suggested we will have less guest referrals compared with the previous year. Reasons including new initiatives, part as a result of extra government funding, for homeless outreach services, 10 extra bed spaces for homeless folks as a result of a new all the year round night shelter and extra hostel bed spaces and 10 emergency bed spaces provided by the main homeless charity in my town, Southend. Yet my shelter and others in the program already are now near to our maximum stated number of bed spaces (20), and I know full well there are some homeless folk who for various reasons do not engage with night shelters, as well as a significant number of hidden homeless, many referred to as sofa surfers.

This brings me to Christmas, which often brings out the best in people, including those wanting to help those less fortunate than themselves, including the homeless. Their help can be much appreciated, e.g. relieving those who help with the homeless during the rest of the year, providing much appreciated practical help for those who are reaching out to homeless people and laying on special events such as meals for the homeless with a Christmas touch. But without wanting to sound churlish … I need to make the point I make most Christmases. All this is very nice and thank you very much and all that, but we really could do with your help for the times of the year other than Christmas, when the need is as much, if not greater. And if you are going to help, rather than give what is not needed or can’t be used to best effect, find out what is needed and give accordingly and do so with an open heart and not to appease conscience. Even so, people giving as they do is still of value.

This brings me to the reason for the season… most people know Jesus was born in a stable as there was no room for him in the inn, a comparable plight to many of today’s homeless folk. His parents soon after had to flee the country because of the act of a callous king and sought asylum in another country, a predicament that many today can identify with, the world over. Even in adulthood, Jesus knew what it was to be homeless, saying:  “foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” And as for helping the homeless, when he said “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” he would have included today’s homeless. The message of Christmas is about giving as well as receiving (including God giving His Son into the world to save humankind), and in some small way I hope readers will find ways to give to the homeless this Christmas.

For my part as I look forward to Christmas and, if I am spared, to the one after this, I will continue and try to play my small part in supporting the homeless. I should also add my own wishes for a Merry Christmas to our homeless friends and to all who read this.

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