London is one of the most dynamic and vibrant cities in the world and the West End of London in particular, is renowned worldwide as a hub for entertainment, leisure and shopping. This area of London receives over 17 million tourists each year, with a staggering 10 billion pounds being spent in its shops, restaurants and theatres.
Yet amongst the crowds and money, there are many who find life in the West End extremely challenging and lonely. I’m sure like me, you will have noticed the very real challenge of homelessness in this part of London. The contrast of our big, exciting, wealthy city, to the heartbreak of an individual living on the streets, can be hard to get our heads around. It’s often difficult to see individuals struggling and in need, and even more difficult to know what to do or how we can help.
However, I love how clear the Bible is about how we should respond to those in need. When considering stories such as the Good Samaritan, we should allow ourselves to be challenged to not just walk by, oblivious to the struggles of others, but to stop and have compassion. During his ministry and time on earth, Jesus often stopped, talked to, and even healed, those who were in need. He saw, he heard, he had compassion and he acted. Isaiah, one of the Old Testament prophets, also writes about how we should respond; to share our food with the hungry, provide the poor wanderer with shelter and not to turn away those in need (Isaiah 58).
There are often many complex reasons behind how a person has found themselves living on the streets, yet there are a number of simple and practical things we can do to help bring some relief:
1. Many people who are homeless have not had much positive human contact and can be feeling vulnerable, isolated and ignored. One of the most valuable things we can do is take the time to acknowledge the person, say hello and pass on a friendly smile.
2. Whether or not you give money to people asking for help is an entirely personal choice, however often purchasing food and drink or putting together a bag of useful items can be extremely helpful (food, water, toothbrush/paste, hair comb, new socks).
3. Take a look at the “No Second Night Out” campaign- Each week about 105 people are seen rough sleeping for the very first time in London. This campaign exists to provide a rapid response team to help people facing their first night out on the street. We can notify the team of rough sleepers by visiting Street Link and quickly and easily providing a few details. (Visit http://www.streetlink.org.uk or call 0300 500 0914).
Although it can be hard to know where to begin, the key sometimes is just to start and do what you can. Particularly in the West End, homelessness is one of the biggest needs there is, and so from mid-October, ChristChurch London’s West End service will be serving at the Simon Community’s mobile Street Cafe at St Giles in the Fields (WC2H 8LG) on Sunday afternoons. If you would like to join us, we would love to hear from you. ()