Yesterday, Thursday 13th February 2020, I was begging on the doorstep of Church House, Westminster in the role of a homeless person for five hours from 9am to 2pm. It was the last day of the February meeting of the General Synod, which is the governing body of the Church of England comprising a House of Bishops, a House of Clergy and a House of Laity all meeting together. I was supporting from the street two excellent motions to be voted on that day. One was promoting a better friendship between church members and impoverished people in line with the priority given to it by Jesus. The other was opposing the shredding of legal aid which is blocking access to justice for many. Both motions were passed unanimously.
By demonstrating for the homeless I wanted to draw the attention of Synod members to the concerns I hear so often from TAP's supporters about the Church of England's commercial use of very valuable land in ways that do not contribute to ending homelessness.
I was wonderfully cared for by the door keepers of Church House who brought me coffee and checked I was OK from time to time. Two friends came to be with me for about an hour and another brought me lunch and hand warmers.
I did not feel the cold until after I had finished the vigil. Then my body felt chilled until it warmed up in the early hours of the next morning. Charities, shelters and cold weather polices of local authorities simply do not meet the need for or the right to a home in all weathers. While several people entering or leaving Church House stopped for a chat most walked by as if I was not there. That invisibility while lying on the pavement must be very depressing for long term street homeless people.
Homeless families in temporary accommodation were also in my mind. According to Shelter at least one parent is employed in 33,000 out of 86,000 such families in England
. There is a statement doing the rounds in Government circles that says putting homeless families in temporary accommodation is all right because they "have a roof over their heads". But homeless families can be forced to move several times in up to and over ten years of "roofs over their heads". They can be overcrowded, filthy or bed-and-breakfast and they costs local authorities over £1bn.
Homlessness is a debilitating insecurity that our policy makers would never accept for themselves and ought not accept for anyone else.
My snoopy mug collected £14.38 which was given to one of the three street homeless persons begging outside Totteham Hale tube station that I walk past on my all journeys home. A donation of £50 was posted on TAPs website for what the donor called the "begathon". It will be given to The Highway House Homeless shelter in Tottenham.
They work with a range of public services to ensure they are able to offer the fullest support to their residents. They are open to residents 7 days a week, 365 days a year. They work diligently with each person to ensure when they leave Highway House they are ready to be independent once again and return to a full and fruitful life. Pastor Alex Gyasi is CEO of Highway House Shelter. He is the founder and Senior Pastor of Highway of Holiness Church. He received his MBE in 2019. About 60 people sleep on the floor of the Church every night, some of them go out to work each morning.
Rev Paul Nicolson
Founder; Taxpayers Against Poverty
Letter published by the Church Times on 13th December 2020