Homelessness has doubled in the last six years and is predicted to rise by another 76 per cent over the next decade. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has our physical requirements as being the bottom rung of the pyramid. If our physical needs aren’t being met then we cannot progress and our true potential as a human being cannot be realised. Surely everyone has an unalienable right to a roof over their heads and a place they can call home, don’t they?
We are an unequal society. Alan Milburn, chair of the Social Mobility Commission, in talking about how divided we have become as a nation said that “a new geographical divide has open opened up, a new income divide has opened up and a new generational divide has opened up. If we go on like this, these divisions are set to widen, not narrow. There is a growing sense in the nation that these divisions are not sustainable, socially, economically or politically. There is hunger for change.”
Where will that change come from? How will we equalise our society so there are genuinely equal rights and opportunities for all? How will we create a society where we can at least provide everyone with their own home? These are some of the biggest questions of our time.
In political terms will we lurch to the right or the left in search of these solutions, or plot a course through the middle ground, and haven’t we walked down all of those well-trodden paths before? Why would we think that they will work the next time when they haven’t worked previously?
God does not offer us neat political solutions. Jesus’s teachings on the Sermon on the Mount turned society on its head by celebrating the meek, the poor in spirit and the merciful. He commanded his followers to “love their enemies”, “to go the extra mile”, and “to settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court”. These are not teachings that sit comfortably with our human nature, which is often looking out for number one and creating hierarchical, controlling top-down structures to organisations.
The Bible says “God is no respecter of persons”. He does not show favouritism but loves everyone equally. Jesus says we should “love your neighbour as yourself” and “do unto others as would be done to you”. A society truly wedded to these principles could not tolerate injustice or poverty. It would not be possible to “walk by on the other side”, as religious figures did when the Good Samaritan – a social outcast of his day – took responsibility for the person half dead on the roadside. After Jesus had ascended into heaven his disciples “shared everything they had”.
When we search for answers to what can be done about homelessness, we have, as Michael Jackson once sang, to look at “the man in the mirror”. He is the only one we can change. It is too easy to point the finger at someone else! The Bible says: “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?”
God is saying that the solution to homelessness is at an individual level, and that you and I should take action out of our compassion and what we have been given. That is the only way that society has ever been transformed – one kind act at a time.