As the winter deepened at the end of February, temperatures plunging below freezing and arctic winds bringing snow, the thoughts of many turned to those sleeping on the streets. The media was asking the question, ‘How is it that, in modern day Britain, people are homeless?’ According to the latest statistics, published this January, 4,751 people are estimated to be sleeping rough on any one night in England, an increase of 15% from the previous year and 73% over the last three years. 295 of those people are in the West Midlands and 57 in Birmingham. In 2011 there were just 7.*
The reality is that every homeless person has their own story that has brought them to living on the streets. Why are people homeless? There could be an infinite number of answers: the breakdown of a relationship, a cut in benefits, losing a job, learning difficulties, alcoholism, drug addiction, mental health problems, a bereavement. After taking part in BCM’s Sponsored Sleepout in February, one participant asked a different question, ‘Is there hope?’ I put the question to Care Centre Manager, Jon Tiley.
‘Yes, there’s always hope. Our biggest problem is changing people’s thinking and how they perceive themselves. I’ve known one guy since 2007 when he came to the Washington Court hostel. He was in his forties then. His daughter had died, causing his marriage to break up, while he turned to drink and ended up sleeping rough. For 10 years he was in and out of rehab until, in September last year, he came to us and asked for help. We got him a place in the Emmaus community in Coventry, a long-term accommodation project, but after three weeks he left. He said it was everything he wanted, but it was too good; he didn’t deserve it. In November he came back to the Care Centre very upset, saying he had made a mistake. His place at Emmaus was still there for him and he’s back there today.
Another guest has been in and out of prison and sleeps rough every night. We’ve tried to bring him inside, but he doesn’t want a hostel. He’s clean now but has struggled with alcohol and drugs and the hostel network is dangerous for that. He’d like to go to Emmaus and we’re working with him towards that goal.
For some, living on the streets is what they know – it’s a comfort zone – and they can’t think of moving on to the next stage; they don’t think they can. There are facilities to give people hope but, for the majority, it doesn’t happen overnight. Care Centre clients have chaotic lifestyles. The main thing is to keep in communication with them and help get them ready to move on.’
At the Care Centre the ‘main event’ has always been a hot evening meal (on Mondays to Wednesdays), offered with friendship, support and an opportunity to find out more about the Christian faith. It is now open on Monday afternoons as well, and on Thursdays until the end of March, for the Birmingham Churches Winter Night Shelter. I asked Support Worker, Steve Bagnall, how it is all going.
‘It’s proving to be really great. On Monday afternoons we have time for good companionship, we play board games, table tennis and pool. It gives us the opportunity to offer practical advice. We can make calls and sort things out like GP appointments, setting up bank accounts, benefit queries and we’re often asked for help with housing.
In addition, we have 12 guests attending the night shelter; none are British, the majority Eastern European. In our experience, the majority of rough sleepers in Birmingham are from Eastern Europe. In many cases this means they have no access to public funds and therefore there’s no housing benefit available. If they have no ID, it’s a really complicated scenario. The night shelter co-ordinator and volunteers help guests go to their embassy, get a passport and potentially get back home if they want. Of the guests we had at the night shelter last year, three went back home (to Poland and Romania), two are now on benefits and are therefore housed, two found work and one sadly died on the streets. Situations aren’t always solved, but overall there is more success than not. There are solutions and we value your prayers for the work that happens at Care Centre.’
*Based on annual reports by the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government providing information on a single night snapshot using street counts and intelligence driven estimates submitted by local authorities.
Please pray for the Care Centre
To be thankful for:
- The new shower room installed for the use of guests and a large donation of bath towels.
- The Wednesday afternoon Care Centre Bible Class is attended by around seven people, four of whom are volunteers who used to be guests and are interested in finding out more about God. One of these has given their life to Jesus recently and another was baptised last month.
- The Birmingham Churches Winter Night Shelter which, with the help of 18 churches (including the Care Centre) and around 400 volunteers, has provided emergency accommodation to 12 rough sleepers since December.
- The read-through of Mark’s gospel at the Monday evening Care Centre. Each week after the meal 20 verses are read and discussed by guests, staff and volunteers and it has been a blessing to all.
- The Care Centre nurse, Wendy, running a clinic for guests during the Wednesday evening session.
To pray for:
- The Care Centre’s opening hours are gradually increasing, but we would like to see these increase further. In order to achieve that we need more staff and volunteers available during the afternoons.
- The night shelter co-ordinator and a couple who speak Polish have been helping to communicate with guests, as they try to address guests’ issues and see them move on to better situations.
- Care Centre guests with their often complex and chaotic lives – that there would be practical solutions found and hope in the darkest of circumstances.