Helping the homeless
When I first came to university in October, the issue of homelessness felt like a slap in the face.
Back home in Devon, it just isn’t an issue; I’d never really encountered homelessness.
I had seen homeless people before on trips into cities, but for the first time, I was walking past the same people each day.
Homelessness was no longer this abstract idea, an issue I simply knew existed, instead these were real people, with real, heart-breaking stories.
I remember on one trip to Tesco, I walked straight past several people who lived on the street, one of whom was loudly crying out for help. Feeling powerless, I kept walking, refusing to make eye contact.
As you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.'
Over this period of time, the verse of Matthew 25:45 in the Bible consistently came to mind. It says, 'Then he will answer them, saying, "Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.'"
Here, Jesus is saying that when we ignore those who are in need, we are also ignoring him.
I love Jesus, but how could I claim to love him, if I daily walked past the homeless?
I deeply wanted to help these people that God loves so dearly, but I did not know how to. Living on a student budget restricted how much I could give, plus I was way too terrified to go up and talk to anyone. What would I say?
I started going to a homeless outreach with Just Love. Just Love is a group of Christians in Oxford who are inspired by how Jesus lived his life, and passionate about justice and building relationships with the outcasts.
The homeless are people who deserve respect and dignity.
Being in this group really helped grow my confidence in speaking to people on the streets. These outreaches helped me realise that the homeless are genuinely just people: people who deserve respect and dignity.
The outreaches gave me the confidence to talk to homeless people on a day to day basis as well. I began to ask people who I passed on the way to Tesco if they needed anything. It was usually a bottle of coke, once it was dog food, another time oranges.
Some people began to stop me in the street to ask if I could buy something for them. I felt I should be doing more than I already was and so there were a few instances where I gave more than I probably could have afforded to.
I had to find the balance between loving these people and recognising my restrictions.
Saying hello can make a massive difference.
Often, just making eye contact and saying hello can make a massive difference. You don’t need to have lots of money to love these people who are regularly ignored.
But remember, only go up and speak to homeless people if you feel comfortable and you are in a safe, public place. I would recommend going with a friend so that you can look out for each other.
For me, homelessness became a real issue; I had to do something about it.
If you feel similar, then you can find out if your school, college or university has any outreach groups running, or check out the links below to find out how else you can get involved.
Find a way to get involved.
If you come face to face with an issue that you can’t ignore like I did, you don’t need to feel powerless: find a way to get involved.
It doesn’t have to be big, a handshake, a smile and a cup of tea can go a long way!
Places you can go for help
Find out more about Just Love Oxford here.
Find a place to volunteer in London here.
Find a homeless service near your postcode here.
You can see more about the national charities that are fighting homelessness here.