The homeless crisis and my Anglican church epiphany
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?