Saturday, 29 December 2012

Clearing the air (3) - Homelessness

Another of the issues that cause me grief is that of homelessness.

A few years back (2006) the town in which I find myself serving had one of the local characters freeze to death in a bus shelter as he endured a night in the cold conditions. At that time some of those in  the town decided that they would set about 'doing something' and yet here we are, almost seven years on from his death (January 7th) and nothing has changed.

One of the town's key officials at the time told me that, 'There are no problems surrounding homelessness in the town.' This was a true statement for when homeless people arrived they were given the fare to one of two places away from here to find a hostel. The opinion was that if we 'didn't encourage them to stay, then we didn't have a problem!'

Last year we had a homeless man whose tent had been burgled and his possessions taken. Now I don't know about you but I can't imagine being reduced to living under a canvas shelter only to find your stuff has been nicked - talk about being at the furthest end of the food chain!

Anyway, at first I tried to set him up with a proper tent, food and other stuff, but this was met with opposition from some of the locals in the place I tried to site him for the night (I needed to get him somewhere safe for one night so I could see what could be done to provide a more stable and safe environment).  In fact, not only did they call the police but they told them that there were two vagrants (me being the other) who had dared to set up camp in their nice little village!

The upshot of this was that I got him moved and the church let him stay in a building until such time as he could be housed - and he was, for after some seven weeks, the day before Christmas Eve last year, the man got a flat (where he remains) of his own!

So this is how it is:

1. Many of those who find themselves homeless are in that state becuase of circumstances that are not always of their own making,

2. Many of those who are homeless also suffer from mental illness and are in need of more than a handout, they need help and support to establish them, safely, within the community,

3. Many of those who are homeless have actually been members of the armed forces of this land and are often where they are because of life outside of the forces, and

4. If we took the trouble to listen to the stories they have to tell, we would find that the majority of those who are homeless are no different from you or I (in fact one, an former pupil at a prestigious public school and former legal type had suffered a major breakdown and was was in fact probably much better off, and better educated, than many of us before his tragedy).

So here's the bottom line on this topic - I will not stand by and see people treated badly from now on. Where I find homelessness and nothing being done (whether it be church, council or community) or worse still, steps being taken to act against them - I will shout and make sure everyone who has ears hears, and will keep doing so until something happens.

What about you?

And for those who are homeless and have served - a little reminder (and spur?) for the rest of us:


Ray Barnes said...

I agree 100% with your thinking on this issue and would add only one caveat, namely, that when someone is 'down and out', homeless, hungry and without any resources, whether or not, it is deemed to be his/her own fault. The need is the same.
Argue, if you must, that this or that action should never have been taken.
Say it is their own fault, if you must, but, not until you have fed them and found them a roof.

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

Totally agree - for almost always (must be an exception but haven't met it yet) there are reasons and these are often outside of the homeless persons' control.

Pastoral care and provision first - sort it second :-)

Thanks for comments

UKViewer said...

It seems that homelessness is the issue that local authorities think is someone else's problem.

Here in North Kent/Outer London, we have a migratory homeless problem, people seem to move about quite a bit. Perhaps because they get moved on by the police, instead of the issue being dealt with locally.

Some of those homeless are in fact recent migrants from Eastern Europe, who came to work for pittance wages are now unemployed without the resources to get themselves home.

We are fortunate to have a number of shelters around, but not one in our borough - the Council has a policy of relocating the homeless into Bed and Breakfast, in some cases, as far away at Margate. Once removed, problem solved?

Our local charities who try to help the homeless, which used to be supported by the Council have had their funds cut, due the council says to government cuts? They now struggle hard. Our local churches together work to help the homeless and refer them to the appropriate agencies - who, once again, seem reluctant to help, particularly if the don't originate locally.

It's a vicious circle, which it seems is never ending.

I know that there is a real housing issue locally, for families and particularly for single, young people who have to leave home due to difficulties - people are being forced out of rented accommodation due to increasing private rents and government cuts in entitlement to housing benefits. Council response it to find them cheaper, private accommodation, miles away, which takes them away from home and work - no sense to any of it.