Go back to normal view
It’s definitely colder. There was a distinct chill this morning. I am very grateful for a roof over my head. Not everyone is so fortunate. Over the last few months I’ve been aware of a growing number of people on our streets who appear to be homeless. I’m told that this is because “the authorities” in the centre of town are increasing their efforts to clear the streets of rough sleepers, with the result that many are moving further away from the main shopping centres to areas like our own.
How do people end up on the streets? There are many reasons, including an unstable or abusive family background, a history of criminal offending, addictions of different kinds, as well as mental health problems, the breakdown of relationships, unemployment. Apparently, more than 16 million people in the UK have savings of less than £100, leaving them very vulnerable to sudden changes in circumstances. Local councils are legally obliged to provide help and advice to most people who are homeless, but are only obliged actually to offer accommodation to those who are in priority need, and then only in certain circumstances.
How should we respond to people we see on the streets who appear to be in desperate need? What is a human response – a loving response – a Christian response? It is not easy. We need to take seriously the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew (chapter 25, verses 31-46), when he condemns those who failed to meet the needs of the hungry, the sick and the stranger. Kindness and generosity are a key part of God’s nature, and characteristics that those of us who set out to follow God should be aiming to cultivate.
So what does kindness look like in this situation? The agencies working in this area recommend that we do not give money directly to people on the streets. It often serves more to make us feel good than to meet a real need, and may make an addiction problem worse. I usually offer to buy a sandwich, and a cup of tea where possible. And I make my bigger donations to organisations that work with these groups. Crisis and Shelter are just two examples. There are many more, and they all seek to do more than just meet the immediate need. There are local organisations too: the Salvation Army, the Welcome Project, Redbridge Foodbank. They welcome volunteers too!
Whatever we decide to do, it is important to remember that all human beings have been made by God, and are loved and valued by God. They deserve respect even if we decide that we can’t give them what they are immediately asking for. That’s why I also ask about milk and sugar in the tea, and brown or white bread and fillings for the sandwich. Giving people choices respects their humanity, and gives me a moment to engage with that person as a human being. And alongside our compassion, let us remember to be thankful for all the blessings that we enjoy.
With every blessing,