A look at homelessness at St Leonards Church, Shoreditch

I visited a church in Shoreditch, St Leonards church in fact, and I saw the following:

Two signs, from Hackney Council and signed by church wardens – one in English and one in Polish – which state: “Following several complaints Shoreditch Church gives notice that anybody found loitering in this area may be asked to move on. Failure to do so could result in a call to the police.

“Any belongings left in this area will be disposed of as rubbish. Climbing into this area when the gates are locked is trespass.”

I am not a man of god, but I am a decent enough person to not proactively take away shelter from the homeless, because let’s face if there was a choice for these individuals I strongly suggest that they’d not chose to spend their nights sleeping on the wet grass in a church yard. This article in the Daily Telegraph points out that there had been incidents of violence, drug dealing and so on in and around the churchyard – something that you can well imagine, and of course not condone – but pushing people out onto the streets is no way to solve these problems.

Churches are supposed to be places of sanctuary for those in need, and although the Telegraph article does note the work that the church does with the homeless, it still pushes the point that people weren’t coming to the church because it was “scary”. For me the operative word in the description ‘homeless people’ is ‘people’. Homelessness is a circumstance that can be changed with the right support, but they’re always people and always deserve a little effort. They can appear to be scary but so would you if you’d had to sleep in the streets for a few weeks with little food or actual sleep and no access to washing facilities. I’d hazard a guess that most of them are actually scared, desperate and in dire need of support and keeping warm and surviving the winter is far higher on their list of priorities than scaring church goers.

I would suggest that if every church goer took a thermos flask of hot soup as they went to church and gave it to one of the people forced to sleep in its grounds instead of stepping past them and complaining about feeling uncomfortable, then they would receive a thank you and their thermos flask back after the service and could go home having done a good deed.

There isn’t a town in this land where children don’t tell tales of the ‘crazy homeless man’ who shouts a bit in the town centre. What the children will grow up to realise is that he was probably shouting because he’d fallen into a spiral of mental illness and alcoholism after losing everything he ever had and quite frankly odd looks and tittering teens were the least of his concerns.

People aren’t born to want to sleep in damp sleeping bags in a church yard, but some get pushed by circumstance to be there.

I know that I am about a month’s pay from having nothing, and nowadays I don’t suppose most are much better off, and with cuts to council services by Government meaning that support networks are being taken away, I would have thought the church was in a ripe position to make some real change and act like the focal point for positivity it claims to be.

While I of course haven’t scraped the surface of why people end up on the streets, and that is too big for now, I wanted to point out my horror at the fact that a Reverend would actively dismiss people most in need from the grounds of a church instead of working with his congregation to be more active within the community.

Incidentally, St Leonards Church is the church that appears in the nursery rhyme of old, and even back then it speaks of its poverty:

Oranges and lemons,
Say the bells of St. Clement’s.

You owe me five farthings,
Say the bells of St. Martin’s.

When will you pay me?
Say the bells of Old Bailey.

When I grow rich,
Say the bells of Shoreditch.

When will that be?
Say the bells of Stepney.

I do not know,
Says the great bell of Bow.

Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
And here comes a chopper to chop off your head!

There are loads of ways you can help the homeless this winter, so visit this link and type in ‘homeless charities in (your area)’ and make a difference. I recently went on an Unseen Tour of Brick Lane where 80% of the money from tours goes to the homeless and ex-homeless guides.

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