Dozens of ‘poverty hearings’ in which people experiencing homelessness, bad housing or overcrowding share their experiences with churches will be held over next week’s Poverty and Homelessness Action Week (26/1–3/2). The aim of the events is to show Christians the human face of the poverty which, according to Government figures, affects one in five people in the UK. ‘Churches rightly pay lots of attention to poverty and hunger in the third world but often fail to appreciate the extent of the problem at home,’ said Alison Gelder, chief executive of Housing Justice, one of many Christian agencies behind the week.
Source: Baptist Times (24/1)
Here in Reading the churches do pay quite a lot of attention to the homeless by supporting CIRDIC (Churches in Reading Drop-In Centre), the soup-runs organised by the Christian charity FAITH, and the charity Christian Community Action, which provides furniture, etc., and advice to anyone in poverty or other difficulties.
During Poverty and Action Week (next week) there will be a lunch and meeting with local people, leaders and attenders of the Churches in Reading Drop-In Centre, Berkeley Avenue, on Thursday 31 January, 11.00am onwards, so that local church people can listen to the first-hand stories of the homeless who regularly use the drop-in centre for showers and for food.
Not quite so happy is this week's report which dominated the front page of the local Evening Post on Thursday with the headline 'Homeless need a Place to Eat'. The report says, "A charity helping Reading's homeless is no longer operating in Broad Street (the main street) because the council and police do not want rough sleepers gathering there. The FAITH Christian group has been providing hot drinks, sandwiches and blankets for homeless people in Reading for 15 years.
"FAITH came to an agreement with the authorities to avoid working in Broad Street because of concerns raised by the council about six months ago, but it still insists that there is a need to service this area of the town centre. A FAITH volunteer explained, 'We used to gather in Broad Street. We had a rough idea where the people would be and we would go round with our trolleys and bags providing them with food, blankets and social interaction. We would see 20 or 30 people a night in Broad Street but my understanding is that the council was unhappy about the congregation in Broad Street, so we ended up in the car park of Greyfriars Church with only 8 or 10 people.' FAITH, a registered charity run by volunteers from church congregations from across Reading, now operates from Greyfriars Church on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights, handing out food provided by Pret A Manger and blankets from Christian Community Action. It also runs a tea bar for the homeless in Hosier Street on Sundays, when the church car park is needed for worshippers.
"The Executive diector of FAITH said he understood the council's reasoning but hoped that they could come to an understanding. 'With the sandwich handouts we are trying to co-operate with the authorities' requests but my personal feeling is that the homeless are people and should be allowed to go where they want to be.' To the council, he said, 'If you are refusing to fund them on the street and you are taking their bedding away, then it is all stick and no carrot. There is no open night shelter in the town, so these guys have nowhere to go. We are a big, wealthy town and we must be able to do something.'
"The Councillor speaking on behalf of Reading Borough Council said: 'Large numbers gathering in places like Broad Street could produce an intimidating perception which is not something we want to have in Reading's main street. A night shelter has been discussed many times but we don't have and wouldn't support an open drop-in facility. The issue is that many individuals require treatment for drug and alcohol addicton and related problems. We aren't in the business of allowing alcohol and drugs to be brought into institutions. It would be a misuse of public funds."
The Evening Post interviewed (and pictured) a 26 year old young woman originally from Portsmouth, who said, 'Throughout my life I've been pushed from pillar to post. I've been in care and in hostels since the age of six and in a childen's home before that. I am in temporary accommodation so I am not homeless, but often cannot find the money for a meal. FAITH is not just about food. It's the friendship and the warm welcome. Also people can give me advice about housing and other problems. I like to go to church and I believe in God, but this is not just for Christians. It'a for anybody who needs help and somebody to talk to who will listen to you and what you are going through.'
Please join us in praying for those in poverty and homlessness and also for those who seek to give help in dificult circumstances.