Thought for the Day - Rev Lucy Winkett
It was a stark statistic reported on this programme yesterday. If you are homeless in the UK, your life expectancy is 30 years shorter than the average for the population. I was struck by the average age of death for homeless women -43- as it’s my age too. The other terrible figure from yesterday’s reports by both Crisis and Shelter was that 70,000 children will wake up on Christmas morning –in 3 day's time - in vulnerable, temporary accommodation.
For any of us who live in cities and who have a place to live, the sight of people sleeping on the streets is a highly visible reminder that some men and women have found themselves in desperate poverty and are surviving the best way they can. The housed and the homeless populations co-exist in modern cities like people who live in different dimensions only engaging fleetingly in the interaction that comes with asking for spare change. We share the same streets; but some of us walk on them, avoiding, if we can, the spit and the chewing gum. Others of us lie on them on a piece of dirty cardboard in a sleeping bag, knocked by shopping bags, cuddling a dog. Reports are published and statistics are shocking but they mask the fact that the woman who dies at my age without fulfilling the dreams she had as a girl is a precious unique and mysterious individual. She had secrets and wisdom that she had no one to tell. Her thoughts were unspoken and her opinions unsought.
If she’s 43 then she might have liked Boy George as a teenager or laughed at Captain Pugwash as a child. She aged 43 has had her last Christmas, not as a harassed mother dealing with the children and the in-laws and a demand for perfectly steamed sprouts, but as a woman moving on from sofa to hostel, not wanting to take advantage of her housed friends, and trying to stay off the drink. She couldn’t get dry, she couldn’t get warm, and her cough came back every winter.
Along with other churches, our central London church is taking part in a night shelter this winter and I’ve been reminded that while public policy will deal with the “issue” of “homelessness”, there is no substitute for spending time with an individual, reminding myself too that every person is created in the image of God. Far from being a Victorian celebration of domesticity, the Christmas story is of pregnant teenage Mary giving birth in an unfamiliar town, relying on the kindness of strangers and soon afterwards becoming a refugee.
For the sake of the women who have died before they should, and the children who wake up insecure in a bed and breakfast, I think that the Christmas account of God born in a feeding trough leads us to search for ways to serve our neighbour whoever and however they are.