Homelessness Sunday (24 January)
by Brian Radcliffe
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To encourage us to get involved in tackling the issue of homelessness (SEAL theme: Empathy).
Preparation and materials
- You will need a leader and two readers.
- You may wish to find out about local homelessness initiatives or clothing collection centres (at: www.homelessuk.org) or the Big London Night Walk (at: www.bigissue.org.uk/event/big-london-night-walk).
- Have available the song ‘Homeless’ by Paul Simon and the means to play it at the end of the assembly.
Leader: There is a BBC TV weekend show called Home Comforts with chef James Martin. Maybe you watch it. It's a cosy programme with weekly titles such as these.
Reader 1: Pick me ups.
Reader 2: Love your larder.
Reader 1: Food to share.
Reader 2: Friday night suppers.
Reader 1: A taste of home.
Reader 2: Sunday brunch.
Leader: That is what home comforts are all about - everything that makes us feel warm, satisfied and contented.
For many, many people, this winter, though, life will not be cosy and comfortable. Why? Because they are homeless.
Reader 1: Up to September last year in the UK, nearly 70,000 households - so including adults and children - were given temporary housing assistance by local authorities because they were homeless. Many thousands of others were refused support. It is uncertain where they went.
Reader 2: Last year, in London alone, seven and a half thousand people are known to have been sleeping rough. Many thousands more are rumoured to be among the hidden homeless, sleeping, at best, on friends' sofas or floors or squatting in unused buildings.
Leader: That's just in this country.
Reader 1: The United Nations estimates that more than one milion migrants arrived by sea in Europe during the last year. These people, a majority of whom are single men, are spread across European countries, from Greece to France. They have no home, no work and no income.
Reader 2: Nearly four million refugees, largely in families, have been forced to flee from their homeland in Syria and its borders because of civil war and terrorist groups. Further, more than seven miliion Syrians have been displaced within their country. They have taken with them only the bare essentials.
Leader: Homelessness is a huge problem, made worse by the harsh weather at this time of year.
In the face of a barrage of statistics like these, it's easy to be overwhelmed. We can be tempted to try and ignore the facts, hide behind our personal problems and enjoyment, pretend that it has got nothing to do with us.
Sunday 24 January is a day on which churches up and down Britain will be trying to confront the issue. On that day - Homelessness Sunday - the focus will be on what the reality of the situation is and what can be done to alleviate at least some of the hardship. The thing is, homelessness is not inevitable - something can be done.
It starts by looking at the causes, which are many and varied. Some stem from big international issues, others from decisions made by governments. Some originate much closer to home, in family conflicts and relationship breakdowns.
Reader 1: Surely we can't do much about the causes, can we?
Leader: Well, we have all got a voice. If we feel the Government could act differently, then we have the freedom to express that opinion by contacting our MP. Alternatively, on a local level, we could contact the local council or councillors or find out about local homelessness projects by looking online (such as www.homelessuk.org).
Another thing we could do is support a national organization that helps homeless people, such as Shelter, Crisis or Housing Justice.
We can also help in small but important ways. Your voice or listening ear might be all that is needed to help a family you know to draw closer together again and prevent one of its members becoming homeless in the first place. Never underestimate the value of simply being a good friend to someone who is having trouble at home.
Reader 2: Well that's a start, but can I actually do something practical?
Leader: There is a lot you could do. First, think of those winter clothes you've grown tired of or the ones that have been replaced by Christmas gifts. There are collection centres up and down the country where you can take them. Some transport the clothes just over the Channel to Calais to help those in the growing refugee camps there. Other clothing is taken further afield, to families in Eastern Europe and on the borders of Syria.
Second, local homelessness projects constantly need things such as toiletries, new socks, underwear, hats and scarves. Why not find out about a centre near you and think of a fundraising scheme that could help them in some way? Maybe you could hold a sponsored sleepover in a local church hall or scout hut - without the heating on! - or camp out in your garden, if you're brave enough. In these ways not only will you raise some money but you will also gain an inkling of what it feels like to be homeless, though you get to go home to a warm bed afterwards, of course.
Finally, you could research or even help organize a trip to The Big London Night Walk. This is an opportunity to raise money to help people on their journey away from homelessness, get fit and have some fun, all at the same time. Why not have a look online at the details (at: https://www.bigissue.org.uk/event/big-london-night-walk).
Time for reflection
All this brings us back to Homelessness Sunday. Apart from the suggestions already given, why not contact your local church and see what it might already have planned?
Thank you for our home comforts.
Please remind us every day of the privileges that we enjoy.
May we, from our comfortable lives, be ready to get involved in tackling homelessness at home and abroad.
‘Homeless’ by Paul Simon