I saw this sign lying abandoned on the pavement on my way home from church this evening, and I thought, ‘you’re not wrong’.
Today has been a day dominated by issues of homelessness. And I’m no clearer about what, if any, solutions are available.
In the last 24 hours I have had personal correspondence with everyone from our local MP, to the Safer Streets Team, to the Council Emergency Social Work Team, to the Mental Health Support Team.
And what I have learned (again) is that the system is broke, and it hurts. My colleagues and I have put great effort into helping someone, but I genuinely don’t know that we have made any difference.
Issues of homelessness are always complex, with poor mental health a recurring feature. And the structural support that our society might (should?) offer to help people who have fallen off the bottom is stretched to breaking point.
So what should we do?
We shouldn’t give cash, we all know that. And sometimes we have to recognise that there are limits to what can realistically be achieved with people whose lives are just so broke it hurts.
So we say it, and we say it loudly and clearly: this is not acceptable. We are all diminished by this.
We have elections coming up - an opportunity to choose our next local leaders. So let us vote, and let us vote prayerfully and carefully for people who will take decisions which are care-full of the poor, the vulnerable, and the homeless.
And let’s continue to take the hands-on experiences of churches like ours, with our successes and our failures, and use these as a basis to write, speak, and shout if necessary - that a society that ignores its most vulnerable and excluded is not a society worth investing in.
The Bible recognises the complexity of poverty. Jesus himself said that ‘the poor will be with you always’ (Mk 14.7 //s). We will never solve this problem, but that doesn’t mean we can ignore it either.
And we need to find ways of addressing it that take us beyond the assuaging of middle class guilt. We need to learn the ways of reciprocity rather than charity. We need to learn to say no, sometimes, even if it hurts, because saying no is less harmful than saying yes (again). We need to know that we are loved, and that the poor are loved, and that we are poor, and that God is love.
And none of this is easy, because we are all so broke it hurts.