My first Crisis shift is on Monday. I usually do two shifts at the end of the holiday, when everyone is clean and refreshed – but apprehensive about leaving the warmth of the converted school for the freezing loneliness of the streets. This year, I’m looking forward to greeting the guests as they come in from the cold on day one.
I know I’ve written about Crisis umpteen times on this newsletter, but last Saturday evening I sung my heart out at the Crisis carol service at Southwark Cathedral. Between the carols and tidings of goodwill, we heard three heart-rending stories from Crisis members, before Jon Sparkes, the charity’s chief executive, took to the pulpit.
He did a very diplomatic job of welcoming the new Conservative government.
‘Homelessness is a policy choice,’ Jon said, before outlining the plans to end homelessness that the Scottish government already has in place, and that the Welsh government are currently piecing together, in close consultation with Crisis.
The government of England has no such plan, nor any plans for such a plan.
Responding to the Conservative manifesto before the election, Jon said: ‘It’s deeply disappointing to see the Conservative manifesto fall short of the mark when it comes to ending homelessness, in all its forms, once and for all.’
Crisis is instead working with local authorities to implement their own plans, helping them take control where national leadership is lacking. Newcastle, for example, has pledged to end homelessness within the next ten years.
This Christmas, about 4,500 homeless guests – or ‘fellow citizens’ as Jon called them – will join 12,000 volunteers at the ten Crisis centres around London.
12,000 volunteers! This is an incredible show of support for our marginalised fellow citizens, whose population has grown so vertiginously over the past ten years.
But what’s even more incredible is that we are all still living in a society beholden to the pernicious Vagrancy Act of 1824 that makes rough sleeping a criminal offence.
Crisis are currently running a campaign to scrap the act, but isn’t it incredible that they should have to campaign at all?
Yet here we are. In England, at least, we fall further and further every year from our goal of ending homelessness, in all its forms, once and for all. The United Kingdom is the sixth biggest economy on the planet. Shame.
Rather than leave you on such a downer, I want to say again that we are each of us tiny slivers of society. Yes, life would be so much easier if we had the backing of the government and that enormous economy, but we can each participate, with our time, money, anger, or simply with a kind word on the street.