People without a home.
One morning, away back in the eighties (i.e. 1880s), I was an early caller at his (William Booth’s) house in Clapton…‘Bramwell,’ he cried, when he caught sight of me, ‘did you know that men slept out all night on the bridges?’
He had arrived in London very late the night before from some town in the south of England, and had to cross the city to reach his home. What he had seen on that midnight return accounted for this morning tornado. Did I know that men slept out all night on the bridges?
‘Well, yes,’ I replied, ‘a lot of poor fellows, I suppose, do that.’
‘Then you ought to be ashamed of yourself to have known it and to have done nothing for them,’ he went on vehemently…‘Go and do something!’ he said. ‘We must do something.’ (Bramwell Booth, Echoes and Memories)
More than a century and a quarter later, The Salvation Army is one of the largest organised providers of emergency shelter in the world. Nonetheless, more people lack a safe and secure sheltered home than ever before in the history of humanity.
It is very difficult to determine how many homeless people there are in the world… The best we have is a conservative estimate from the United Nations in 2005, which puts the number of homeless at 100 million. Not included in this number are people who lived in terrible semi-permanent places such as abandoned buildings, vehicles, hastily put together shelters or tents. The report also did not include the ‘hidden homeless’, who bounce from shelter to shelter or from friend’s house to friend’s house. It is estimated that there could be as many as another 100 million hidden homeless in the world, bringing the conservative estimate of the total population of homeless to 200 million. (http://www.shelter20.com/homeless-statistics/)
By the end of 2012, the world had 15.4 million refugees, 937,000 asylum seekers and 28.8 million people who had been forced to flee within the borders of their own countries. (Statistics from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.) (http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/world-s-displaced-people-at-18-year-high-of-45-2-million-1.1378212)
‘A teacher of the law came to him [Jesus] and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matthew 8:19, 20).
‘Here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come’ (Hebrews 13:14).
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am’ (John 14:1-3).
Israelite tradition is, at its best, conscious of its homeless roots. Abram left Ur and then Haran to find a homeland. Israel came out of Egypt to find a home – a place. And the rhetoric of the Torah, its traditions drawn together and given final shape as a result of exile and homelessness, recognises that the stamp of the itinerant and destitute and dispossessed, of servitude and oppression needs to remain.
‘Everyone will sit under their own vine
and under their own fig-tree,
and no one will make them afraid,
for the Lord Almighty has spoken’ (Micah 4:4).
The rhetoric of vine and fig-tree is linked with the ideology of the home. In the ideal, godly society, each person – regardless of family structure – would have a safe place to live. They would have the basic necessities of life, as well as leisure time to enjoy them. The complex of ideas reminds us that a home is more than just a house. (B. Power (2006), The quest for home: a search for affordable housing. Unpublished manuscript.)
Prayer for people who are homeless
Hear our prayer today for all women and men, boys and girls who are homeless.
For those sleeping under bridges, on park benches, in doorways or bus stations. For those who can only find shelter for the night but must wander in the daytime. For families broken because they could not afford to pay the rent. For those who have no relatives or friends who can take them in. For those who have no place to keep possessions that remind them who they are. For those who are afraid and hopeless.
For those who have been betrayed by our social safety net. For all these people, we pray that you will provide shelter, security and hope. We pray for those of us with warm houses and comfortable beds that we will not be lulled into complacency and forgetfulness.
Jesus, help us to see your face in the eyes of every homeless person we meet so that we may be empowered through word and deed, and through the political means we have, to bring justice and peace to those who are homeless. Amen. (Written by Carol Penner, Mennonite Central Committee Canada, 2009.)