I start this blog sitting in the foyer in the Overnight Welcome Centre. So far today two people have left us and moved into accommodation. It’s been a good day. But what about the others we have staying with us? They haven’t been moved into accommodation yet. What can we do for them?
We have seen a shift in who our guests are this year. One of our team, Jacqueline, described it this way (paraphrased) – ‘We are seeing another layer of homelessness. We are seeing the ones with truly nowhere else to go – the ones often lost in chaos we used to experience at the Night Shelter, the ones who would just float along and remain hidden.’ This comment sums up this season of the OWC so perfectly.
The council are doing an incredible job at accommodating those who can be, which means many don’t need to stay with us. This is what we want, it’s a huge success. However, we have seen an increase in a core group who have abandoned everything they knew in search for a better life. We’ve heard stories we’ve never heard before. I can tell you of a young 16-year-old boy who had just arrived in the country on the back of a lorry. I can tell you of a man who has no clue which country he belongs to because he has had to move from country to country all his life. Stories that should break your heart. Stories that regularly feature the back of a lorry.
They remind me of the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32.
Verses 14-16 read, ‘And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.’
He left his home and ended up with nothing. No one gave him anything. Not one single person. No help in a foreign land. I’m confident some of the people we encounter often feel like this. Our guests leave their home and end up with nothing. It is hard to imagine that this reality is better than the life they left behind, but it is true. As a follower of Christ this should lead us to action. What difference can we make? Our guests are worth more than this. They deserve to be treated with respect and love. They deserve a safe place to sleep. They deserve a nutritious home-cooked meal. They deserve the support they require because who am I to judge the trauma they may have experienced or judge the reason they decided to flee the place they once called home? That’s not my job and it’s not yours either.
So I finish this blog sitting in my own house having had a dinner I chose. Later I’m going to climb into my own bed, looking forward to tomorrow with no concerns. My prayer is that one day, each and every one of our guests experience this feeling too. I pray they will see the value in their own life and will feel a welcome like never before in the OWC. Most importantly I pray that we, as a team, will be a clear reflection of Christ to them and that they will experience the overwhelming love of God for themselves that we so often take for granted.
Overnight Welcome Centre Manager