January 2018 First Thursday

January 4th summary of the discussion

 

The leader of Windsor Council had called for rough sleepers to be cleared out of the town before the wedding of Prince Harry and Megan Markle, to deal with “aggressive begging and intimidation” and “bags and detritus” spoiling the look of the town (though later in the day he was rebuked for this by Theresa May).  He had also said “Homelessness is completely unacceptable in a caring, compassionate community such as ours. We are working to create the necessary housing for our residents” and that the Council “recently” found emergency accommodation for every rough sleeper in Windsor but many had turned it down.

Public begging can seem intimidating, and raises questions about the right way to respond, but there are better ways to deal with it than by pushing the problem out of sight.  That reaction contrasts with the welcome and protection offered to Ruth (in one of our readings for the day from the Book of Ruth chapter 3).

There are a wide variety of reasons why people become homeless- including family breakdown, debt, addiction, mental health etc.  And many homeless people reject night shelters because they find them to be more dangerous than sleeping on the streets.  Focussing exclusively on such personal reasons can lead to bad public policy.  If there is a large hole in a road many people may fall into it- some may be drunk, some driving too fast, some just curious.  The real question, however, is why there was a hole in the first place.  It is the same with homelessness- the question is why there is a shortage of accommodation, not the reason why, given that that is the case, particular people end up without homes.

In the economy described in the story of Ruth there was deliberate production for a surplus, so that those who were temporarily in poverty would be able to find what they needed, for example by gleaning (gathering the “surplus” grains left behind after harvesting- and there were other laws to ensure that temporary poverty would not turn into permanent destitution, such as the cancelling of unpayable debt in Deuteronomy 15).  Our modern society is built on the premise that production must be as efficient as possible, with taxation for social needs (including poverty) as low as possible. Such an economy does not provide the basic necessities for all people- it will provide homes for people who have money, not for those who lack resources (this will also be the case with the proposed housing developments in North Bedfordshire).

Some churches have taken action to deal with this- for example by providing deposits to help people access private rented accommodation.  But the long-term solutions to homelessness will require thought-out and consistent responses both locally and nationally, by churches and other charities and government working together.

 

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