No place like home!
A few weeks ago now, my wife and I were fortunate enough to spend a couple of days in Shepherd's Bush in west London after spotting that an up-and-coming country music star was appearing in concert.
It's a bustling place, full of people going about their daily business, but it is also a place of stark contrasts. The big chains and restaurants are full of hungry tourists eager to fill up on expensive food and drink and the shops are full of people eager to splash the cash on Christmas presents. But spend any time walking about and you notice the poor and unfortunates begging for money and food during the day, and sleeping in sleeping bags, or whatever else they can find to try to keep warm, in doorways at night.
Looking around it was as if they didn't exist. Easier to turn a blind eye. Don't look at them and somehow they will go away and stop begging for change. I watched as the crowds rushed by. It brought to mind the parable of the Good Samaritan. Surely someone would stop to offer help soon!
During our recent Remembrance events we had some perspex silhouettes in church during a campaign called "There, but not there." It made me think back to the rough sleepers we saw. They were there, but not there. Many people saw them but chose not to stop or to give them anything. It was as if they didn't exist.
Love one another as I have loved you? No chance. No time. No patience and no change!
It has always been one of life's bugbears to me that in the 21st Century there are people who have no place to call home. Nowhere to go to feel safe and secure. No roof over their head.
As the cold weather begins to kick in and as we approach Christmas and the magical story of the birth of Jesus I urge you to think for just one moment of these less fortunate amongst us. Think how they will cope.
When I was younger I took part in Shelter organised sleepouts, along with many other people. It sharpens your mind into realising how awful life can be for the homeless.
And there's more bad news. Just this week a new survey by Shelter indicated that the number of homeless people in the UK is soaring by a rate of more than 1,000 a month, and one in 200 Britons are now without a permanent place to live.
The figures, which show that 320,000 people are currently known to be sleeping on the streets or stuck in temporary accommodation, highlight the depths of the country’s housing crisis.
The new data from Shelter, which combines official rough sleeping, temporary accommodation and social services figures, shows the total number of homeless people has increased by 13,000 in the last year and by more than 25,000 in the past two years.
The new figures come days after the United Nations condemned the British government’s “punitive, mean-spirited and often callous” treatment of the country’s poorest and most vulnerable, saying policies and drastic cuts to social support were entrenching high levels of poverty and homelessness.
Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “It’s unforgivable that 320,000 people in Britain have been swept up by the housing crisis and now have no place to call home.
“Due to the perfect storm of spiralling rents, welfare cuts and a total lack of social housing, record numbers of people are sleeping out on the streets or stuck in the cramped confines of a hostel room.
"We desperately need action now to change tomorrow for the hundreds of thousands whose lives will be blighted by homelessness this winter."
The charity says its figures are likely to be a conservative estimate, as they do not include people unknown to the authorities or experiencing other types of homelessness not included in the figures.
They add that rough sleeping figures are particularly difficult to record because many people hide and remain out of sight for safety reasons and are not seen by the council officials who carry out the counts.
So, those who bed down for the night in derelict buildings rather than the more obvious shop doorways are often missed out of the tally.
But the figures show that since Shelter first carried out this kind of analysis in 2016, an extra 25,000 people have become homeless.
They also mean one in every 200 Britons is either sleeping rough or living in temporary accommodation, such as hostels and B&Bs.
It recently emerged that more than 100,000 households had been stuck on council housing waiting lists for more than 10 years, as the declining number of homes saw families forced into poor and overcrowded temporary accommodation or paying unaffordable rents.
Previous research by the charity highlighted how many people were prevented from finding somewhere new, when made homeless, because the low level of housing benefit they were entitled to would not cover their rent.
So the next time you moan about paying a household bill, or you have to have something repaired, just be grateful that you have a roof over your head. And remember, there really is no place like home!
*If you are homeless now or at risk of becoming homeless, you should contact the Housing Options Team at Melton Borough Council as soon as possible. To find out more go to their website by clicking here.
*To get advice from Shelter click here.