The causes of homelessness are complex and varied, including lifestyle choices that can lead to temporary or long-term homelessness. But many of the people we encounter do not choose to be homeless. They find themselves on the streets through very different and harrowing circumstances.
Their stories often include long-term rejection and damaged childhoods that may result in early addictions to drugs and alcohol. Often, the consequences of this are manifested later in life through mental health issues. Relationship breakdown, redundancy, debt, exploitation and abuse of all kinds are just some of the problems that can cause homelessness.
We do accept that a small number of people may be tarnishing the reputation of the majority of genuinely homeless people who find themselves trapped in what can seem like a never ending spiral of hopelessness. People who have no choice but to live on the margins of society will often resort to survival mode as most of us probably would.
These are all part of the wider issues we face when we consider the causes and effects of homelessness today. Clearly, we need to tackle the root causes of the problem and not just apply a sticking plaster solution, which the temporary winter night shelter can only be. Other projects, including those run by Kingdom Way Trust who oversee the operation of the winter night shelter, seek to provide this longer term and more in-depth support which addresses the causes of homelessness.
The provision of the night shelter in Eastbourne does bring respite and relief during the coldest winter months for many individuals and offers a vital service for up to 15 guests per night. It is a collaboration between several local churches and manned by volunteers from across many more of Eastbourne’s churches, coming together to provide warmth and non-judgmental friendship for those in need. We do not distinguish between the reasons that cause people to be on the streets, merely that we can manage safely the needs of the individual without putting other guests or volunteers at risk.
We currently have approximately 260 volunteers covering the 90 days of operation spanning three shifts per night. Our referral process begins one week before the shelter opens in December and continues through to the end of February. Our hope is that many of our guests will use the stability of the night shelter to address their longer term accommodation needs. This has proven to be a positive outcome for many night shelter guests over the six years we have been operating.
I count it a privilege to have spent the last seven years working with homeless and vulnerable people but this hasn’t given me a real knowledge of what it FEELS like to be them. I don’t come from a background where I’m despised and rejected and unloved on a daily basis.
However, I do know that I am constantly reminded that the person who most needs to change is ME. I need to get rid of my own prejudices and stereotyping before I can even begin to see a glimpse of the world that our street friends occupy every day of their lives.
I’m grateful that I belong to an organisation that believes in feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger and loving the unloved because that includes me too.
Trustee, Kingdom Way Trust