Why do people think so much more about homelessness at Christmas?
It’s probably because we associate Christmas with being at home and being surrounded by family and having fun. The thought of people being desperately cold, alone and vulnerable is the sharpest possible contrast and it engenders widespread sympathy and compassion.
No room at the inn
But there are also deeper reasons. It’s also because at the heart of the Christmas story is the humble birth of a baby born into poverty and hardship. The Son of God was laid in an animal feeding trough because there was no room in the inn.
It’s remarkable how many of the most well-known homelessness charities have been established by Christians and church leaders. Dig into the history of most homeless charities or housing associations and you will almost always find a church leader behind the origins. The Victorian era saw the birth of the Salvation Army, along with others like the West London Mission and the Church Army. In the 1960s, church leaders were the founders of Shelter, Crisis and Centrepoint.
Faith at work
For some of these charities, faith has become just a footnote in their history, but the last 15 years has seen a whole new generation of Christian activism.
Hundreds of churches have served as venues for night shelters, often rotating around seven different locations in a week. And organisations such as Green Pastures and Hope into Action attract investment for housing and partner with local churches to provide longer-term accommodation for homeless people. It is a sign of the enduring power of faith to make a difference.
And this contribution is being increasingly recognised by local and central government. Up until earlier this year I spent four years as an adviser to the government within the Rough Sleeping Initiative with a role specifically focused on the role of churches and faith groups in responding to homelessness. The role was needed because in every town and city in the country, the work of the church is relevant to addressing homelessness.
I believe this growing acknowledgement of our social contribution is part of a wider appreciation of the important role faith plays in our society.
Justin Brierley recently released a podcast titled 'The Surprising re-birth of belief in God', which charts the growing interest in faith and the widespread rejection of the ‘New Atheism’ of people like Richard Dawkins. Influential thinkers such as psychologist Jordan Peterson and historian Tom Holland have powerfully argued for the role Christianity has played in forming our concepts of human rights, welfare and charity.
And these philosophical truths have been expressed practically in the Christian responses to homelessness.
Hope into Action
Antonio was street homeless and addicted to drugs: “I had pushed away everyone that loved me, and I was on the streets with no way out. God was far away and I couldn’t see how I could be loved by him.”
But through Hope into Action, Antonio found not only somewhere to live but also the relationships and community of his local church. And most importantly of all, through faith in Christ. he found answers to his deepest need for purpose, meaning and significance. He is now working and serving others. As he puts it: “I have found a worth I didn’t have before…It was a like a puzzle that had to be put together and I think Jesus was that missing piece.”
Christmas is a great time to consider giving to homelessness charities. But let’s remember that homelessness is not just for Christmas - it destroys lives all-year round. Let’s put our faith into action throughout the year and be confident in the difference Jesus can make.
Charities working in the area of UK poverty and debt
If you want to support charities working in this area, including ones like Hope into Action that are focused specifically on homelessness, follow the link below.
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