The home­less cri­sis and my Angli­can church epiphany

The Irish Mail on Sunday - - ATTACK ON SYRIA -

TO GET away from the mid­day hus­tle, bus­tle, the sweat and push­ing of cen­tral Lon­don last week­end, I slipped into St James’s Angli­can Church on Pic­cadilly.As I en­tered the beau­ti­ful build­ing de­signed by Sir Christo­pher Wren in 1684, I nearly tripped over a sign which read: ‘Notice to our home­less guests. You are wel­come here at St James’s church. We ask that you re­spect this place and ob­serve the fol­low­ing rules: please sleep only on the pews on the Pic­cadilly side of the church; do not eat or drink in­side the church. If you do you will be asked to leave.’

About half the des­ig­nated pews had peo­ple wrapped in sleep­ing bags, the only sounds be­ing one rough sleeper ad­mon­ish­ing an­other for his snor­ing. The sanc­tity of the lo­ca­tion was ob­served by all.

Apart from of­fer­ing a mag­nif­i­cent and Chris­tian ges­ture, St James’s is also pro­vid­ing an ex­am­ple that might be fol­lowed here, and above all it is a re­minder of the home­less­ness and hous­ing cri­sis that has en­veloped the West­ern world since the eco­nomic col­lapse of over a decade ago.

I know the home­less­ness fig­ures here in Ire­land are shock­ing, and they are no bet­ter in Bri­tain. The re­spected Bri­tish char­ity Shel­ter re­cently re­vealed rough sleep­ing lev­els in Eng­land have in­creased by 132% since 2010 and 16% since 2015. In Lon­don’s there are es­ti­mated to be over 8,000 peo­ple liv­ing on the streets – and the num­ber in emer­gency ac­com­mo­da­tion has in­creased by 6% in the past year.

Shel­ter also re­vealed that one mil­lion house­holds in the UK are in dan­ger of be­ing evicted in the next two years.

Rents, as with most things in Lon­don, are ex­tor­tion­ate.

It struck me that the home­less­ness and hous­ing cri­sis is not just an Ir­ish prob­lem; it is an in­ter­na­tional one – so should there be a pan-Euro­pean anal­y­sis of what can be done?

One of the fea­tures of the daily cov­er­age of our hous­ing emer­gency is the im­pres­sion that we as a coun­try are unique in the hor­rors be­ing vis­ited on fam­i­lies. Clearly we are not, so can we be­gin to co­a­lesce with other coun­tries, share ideas and look at what ac­tu­ally works across Europe?

The speed with which Euro­pean coun­tries re­acted col­lec­tively to the nerve gas attack on two Rus­sian cit­i­zens in the UK as­ton­ished many. Within three weeks, and with Ire­land boast­ing that we were at the fore­front at the move, 18 mem­ber states of the EU had taken the un­prece­dented step of ex­pelling di­plo­mats. Can we even be­gin to imag­ine the level of ur­gency, co-or­di­na­tion, risk-tak­ing and sol­i­dar­ity that pro­pelled this ac­tion?

Is it too much to ask if that the same level of en­ergy and re­sources be im­me­di­ately poured into the Euro­pean hous­ing cri­sis?

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