Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Shelter lessons

Today we said goodbye to our last guests as our winter night shelter closed its doors after 94 days. It closes with us dreaming of having a place that is open all year round to help the growing numbers who do not have access to a home.

We have met some great people over the past three months, people who have been an inspiration in how we create community. Just last night one guest who has been offered a flat that he moves into today arranged for another who has not yet secured permanent housing to allow him to stay with him. So, I'm dropping off two beds to the flat this afternoon, along with a load of other things needed for a decent life.

We've worked with more than thirty people over the winter, most of whom have gone into more permanent accommodation. What has been a surprise is the number of young people (those under 35) and those who have work (albeit of a casual and insecure nature). It was a reminder - as if one is needed on budget day - that we have a housing crisis in the UK that is not touched by any measure announced by the chancellor.

Just this morning, in the pre-budget build up on Radio 4, a pundit was explaining that house building is depressed because there is no demand for housing in the economy and therefore no incentive to build. This is, of course, complete nonsense. What he meant was that there are fewer than in recent years looking to buy. This does not mean there is a lack of demand. Tens of thousands are seeking affordable homes for rent all across the country but especially in London.

Such demand can only be met by a public sector with the wit and imagination to realise that such investment creates jobs, oils the wheels of the economy and can be done at virtually no cost since the government will be borrowing from itself at historically low rates of interest that over the medium term are negative because of the rate of inflation. Sadly we haven't got a chancellor with the wit to see that (he is droning on about slashing departmental budgets and public sector pay as I write this; sensible to work to take more demand out of an economy that is suffering from a chronic lack of demand...)

What I saw in the night shelter was a group of men (and one woman) who have determination to make their lives better, who are gifted, talented, hard-working and community minded but who are excluded from the life they crave because of a massive and inexcusable lack of provision and of the levers that are meant to be there to help them rise up from where they have fallen. What I saw was a group of people who have been failed by our society and who have therefore become a growing cost on it, a cost they do not want to be.

I also saw what the churches can do when they work together, honour one another's contribution and pool each other's talents and resources. In short, I saw something of the Kingdom of God, and I like what I saw.

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