The announcement on the District Line changed recently. For a little while, at almost every stop, the following warning came through the speakers: “There are beggars and buskers operating on the train. Please do not encourage their presence by supporting them.”
We believe people are made in the image of God and are of immense worth. The guests who come through our doors at Webber Street are people, worthy of love and care.
While the announcement isn’t new, it was sobering to listen to amid the recent news of the sharp rise in rough sleepers. The latest report from the Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN) revealed a massive 21 per cent rise in rough sleeping in London.
A total of 10,053 people were seen sleeping rough in our capital during 2022-23 – of which 64 per cent were reported to be new to homelessness – up from 8,329 the previous year.
In the face of such a big societal issue, it’s easy to throw up our hands and do nothing; to move people on from place to place and be defeated before we even address the problem. LCM Field Director Anni Uddin however has not given up. In fact, she is encouraging Christians to step up and offers five practical steps to help where they can.
I see so many statistics on the news every day, I’m not sure how I’d ever really take them in.
Many of us have seen the news reports showing the dramatic rise in the number of people sleeping rough in London.
Sadly, this particular statistic is all too easy to take in. We’ve been seeing the reality of it every day as we meet men and women experiencing the pain of homelessness – many for the first time.
COVID led to a huge effort to house people, but sadly now the numbers on the street are once again rising.
While support from local and national government is much needed, we as the church are uniquely positioned to provide what authorities or charities cannot provide – to invite people to experience true community and a bigger family. To point to the Father who loves them, who longs for them to join his family.
But where to start? Whether it’s just you, or your church, it can feel overwhelming. Here are just a few helpful tips.
This may sound like an obvious one, but it can be easy to forget. I try to remind myself that the person in front of me is made in the image of God and has an intrinsic worth and value. To value them means to treat them as an equal – being ready to listen to them and to share something of your story with them as well.
There are likely services in your local area offering practical help to people who are homeless – which they might not be familiar with. Why not do some quick research to see where you could point someone to if they ask for help. If you’re in London, our Webber Street Day Centre in Waterloo is open six days a week , providing food, practical support as well as the chance to hear the gospel.
If you have a church building, could you regularly welcome people in out of the cold to relax and be served with a cup of tea? Don’t promote it as a homeless ministry, but open it up to anyone in the local area and importantly, encourage church members to attend as well.
You may have neighbours for whom the risk of homelessness is a very real possibility this winter. We step out together with churches into their local area and meet people on their doorsteps. It’s a great way to meet people, to hear what they’re going through and to come alongside them. So often these encounters lead to friendships and chances to share the gospel.
For Steve, the trauma of homelessness may take a while to heal as he rebuilds his life. But that’s why cooking for me and my husband was significant – because it gave him a chance to give and to serve. As you develop relationships with people who are suffering, it’s important to keep this in mind.
The Bible encourages us that God cares and acts on their behalf, and in turn encourages us to act. ‘and if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul, then your light will go forth in the darkness, and your night will be like noonday.’ Isaiah 58 v 10
Or, as the German Luther Bible translation says about this verse, ‘if you let the hungry find your heart…’
I pray that as you read these practical and thoughtful tips, you would let people who are homeless and marginalised find your heart. I believe this is where the journey for each of us, and our churches, to address homelessness begins.