Advent Reflections 3

Welcome to the third of the Ness Group Advent Reflections

Covid: Homeless people in Milton Keynes left struggling for shelter

Winter support for rough sleepers has been cut due to Covid guidelines, the BBC has heard, as charities warn many people have nowhere to stay.

Thousands have been found homes since the start of the pandemic, following the government’s ‘Everyone In’ campaign. But the charity, Shelter, says councils are now denying people accommodation who aren’t considered a priority.

Communal night shelters and soup kitchens have been forced to close this year.

BBC News Website 12/12/20

This Christmas – and every Christmas since it was founded 1n 1967 – Crisis at Christmas will offer help, support, and hope to thousands of people who have no home.  What they do is remarkable enough, funded entirely by  voluntary donations  and offering practical as well as emotional help and support,  they try and make sure that no family or individual has to spend Christmas without somewhere to live.  And they are not alone, other charities, Shelter, St. Mungo’s, The Salvation Army, and the Church Homeless Trust offer support too.  There is a strong tradition of such help being given in the UK.

So, should we congratulate ourselves on our charity and compassion?  Well, yes and no.  Yes, because it is evidence of a deep streak of compassion that exists in many, many people, and that is a joy to see.   And then again no, because the very existence of these charities is predicated on there being a need.  People, families and individuals, are homeless and we are driven to ask why?

Homelessness is a complex issue with many causes, but it is often portrayed as a consequence of some failing or other on the part of the victim:  the drug addict or the alcoholic  who is living rough, the spendthrift family evicted for not paying rent, or the lazy and indolent who rely on others rather than providing for themselves.  In reality, most people who are homeless are simply victims of circumstance.  The alcoholic has a history  of being abused, the drug addict suffers from depression, the family made homeless have lost their meagre income from low paid jobs after being made redundant, the man who can’t keep a job suffers from schizophrenia.  Each is unable rather than unwilling to provide a home for themselves.  While we applaud the charity given to these people, we might also need to condemn the brutality of a society that casts them adrift in the first place.

Social injustice, poverty, exclusion, and  disdain for those psychologically damaged are the root causes of  most of the homelessness in this country.  The work of charities, laudable as it is, is merely a bandage on wounds self-inflicted by society.

While it is right and just for us all to support such charities, we have to begin to address the underlying causes rather than just deal with the symptoms. This may be taken by some as an inappropriate excursion into politics but being a prophetic voice is part of the Christian calling, reminding the powerful of what God desires of them.

Prophets in the tradition of the Old Testament  consistently remind the people, and their kings, that  they have an obligation to God to see to the welfare of the poor and the dispossessed.  That means not just being charitable, but also building a society that is itself just and compassionate.   Israel’s laws given in Leviticus and Deuteronomy are clear that concern for others is the cornerstone of Judaism, and the proper business of the king. 

Christ too brings the same reminder, the same message, to  his own time and to ours, but he goes further: he identifies himself with the dispossessed, the homeless, the helpless.  He calls us all, individually, and I believe as a society, to see beyond the stock image of the homeless as somehow lesser, and instead to see the very image of God in our fellow human beings.  In this season of Advent we are reflecting not just as individuals but as members of a society, and asking ourselves whether we are ready for Christ’s coming: are we prepared for the coming of a king who came himself as a homeless babe?

‘Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”’   Matt 25.34-40