Six things I’ve learnt working on a rough sleepers project

We’re all hearing about it and many of us are seeing more of more of it on the streets across Britain. Yes, tragically, homelessness is on the rise across the UK. Tents, sleeping bags, duvets, people in crisis… Everyone’s seen the dramatic increase in rough sleepers across the country.

According to Homeless Link, around 4,134 people sleep rough every night in England alone. This figure in fact marks an 134% increase since the change in UK government in 2010. In London, that’s an increase from around 400 to almost 1,000 people. Here in the capital we currently have the highest number of rough sleepers across England. It’s truly shocking.

Yet the crisis doesn’t only affect those sleeping rough. There’s also the “invisible homeless” – men, women and children sleeping on friends’ sofas, living in and out of temporary accommodation and with no home to call their own.

Across London, there are a variety of organisations working to provide shelter, food and clothing to people in crisis. One of these is Feeding Folk (Peace by Piece) – an interfaith food programme based at West London Synagogue which brings together Muslims and Jews to cook a hearty hot meal for rough sleepers across London.

Distributing meals across central London, this is what I’ve witnessed and learnt and what I think everyone should know.

1. It costs less than £1 to feed a homeless person a complete hot meal

For a third of the cost of a take-out coffee, you can provide a hot meal, drink, piece of fresh fruit and a snack. The cost is minimal. Yet what is the social and human cost of homelessness? From 2001 to 2009, 1,731 of recorded deaths were traced to homeless people. As temperatures drop during winter, people are especially vulnerable to contracting pneumonia and hypothermia. The government needs to put more money, time and effort in to solve this crisis.

2. The less you have the more you give

The people I’ve met only take food when they’re hungry. If they’ve eaten they’ll be eager for you to to save the food for someone else. Sharing is caring as they say. The saying really is true: the less you have the more you give.

3. Life on the streets truly is hell

It goes without saying that living on the streets is a nightmare but if you could read some of the messages that people write and see what these people are going through… “Hell” was the worst description I have ever seen written.

4. Never underestimate the companionship an animal can bring

Many of us know the joy a pet can bring. Living on the streets is a lonely experience and a pet can bring much-needed comfort. One night we met a man who had recently lost his dog. For him, his dog was his best friend and his life companion. He was “not just a dog”. Housing providers need to understand that a man and his dog come as a pair – they’ll not be separated. Everybody deserves someone and everybody also deserves a home.

5. Almost very single person is grateful

Whatever (little) time, skills or resources you can offer – give them. Every bit will make a difference. To see people heartwarmed or even shocked and surprised at receiving a small meal shows that there is so much more to do. We need to change these heartbreaking trends.

6. Just because someone is sleeping rough doesn’t mean they don’t work

I’ve met people sleeping rough who work and know of many others. Sleeping rough has many causes and contributing factors. Some people lack the funds and/or legal status to rent accommodation after arriving in the UK, whilst for others sleeping rough has been a long-term reality. Do not presume that because someone is sleeping rough, that they have no will, no ambition or no interest in life. In any case, if they didn’t, they’d need emotional and social support.

Take action

Addiction, domestic abuse, financial hardship – there are many reasons why people end up on the streets but one thing is clear: it’s so easy to slip through the net.

It’s time that we raise our voices and tell politicians that this has to end. Write to your local MP and call on them to address the issue.

It’s super easy. Simply:

  1. Look up their contact details here
  2. Download my letter template text and edit the message (stats for your area can be found here)
  3. Copy the text in the webpage above and send!

If you hear back from your MP, then do drop me a line and feedback to me!

So, until next time,

Salam, shalom, peace ♡

Credits

Image credit: Eflon (CC BY 2.0)

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Dear Sister: Violence is not love

The other month I came across a very moving poem by Nomad Speaks called “Dear Sister” which addresses the issue of domestic violence.

Here in the UK and across the world, domestic abuse is a big issue. It knows no boundaries, affecting women of every culture, religion, race and ethnicity. Young and old, it doesn’t matter to an abuser. Just take a look at these stats on the situation here in the UK:

  • Every week across England and Wales, on average two women are killed by their partner
  • Every hour the police on average receive over 100 calls relating to domestic abuse
  • In 2015/2016, 83.3% of victims were women (where gender was recorded)

Yes, it’s a widespread issue. Which is why any means to empower women (and male victims) is all the more welcome. Check out the great poem here:

Now remember, domestic abuse takes many forms. It’s not just physical violence. It’s also words, it’s dominating and demeaning behaviour – in short, it’s ultimately his attempt to control you and disempower you.

Domestic abuse can include:

  • Sexual abuse: rape and/or coercion, forcing you to participate in sexual activities
  • Financial abuse: demanding your wages, not letting you spend your own money
  • Spiritual abuse: forbidding you to pray, go to church, practice your faith etc.
  • Physical abuse: beating, hitting, burning, hair pulling etc.
  • Emotional and psychological abuse: insulting you, demeaning you, making you feel you are worthless etc.
  • Stalking and harrassment

So, if you know anyone at risk, remember wounds aren’t always physical – there’s other ways they may be suffering.

For more information please visit Womens Aid.

Lastly, for brothers in need, please contact the Men’s Advice Line.

Credits:

Feature image: dualdflipflop (CC BY 2.0)

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The Big Iftar: Breaking Bread amongst Friends

West London Synagogue (WLS) has long been a centre for members of different faith communities to come together and build bridges of mutual understanding, faith and friendship, and I’m delighted to have attended one of WLS’ recent interfaith gatherings.

Whilst Muslims are currently celebrating the holy month of Ramadan, where we fast from sunrise to sunset in remembrance of the poor and needy and celebrate the first revelation of the Qur’an, our Jewish brothers and sisters have also recently celebrated the festival of Shavuot, marking the monumental moment when God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. The combination of these two festivals this year shows that as members of the Abrahamic family, we really do have more in common than many may realise. Every year, our Jewish neighbours fast for 24 hours during Yom Kippur, whilst for Muslims, Shavuot reminds us of the importance of Prophet Moses and the Torah within Islam.

To mark the joint celebration and bring together the two communities, WLS hosted a joint Tikkun Leil Shavuot study night and Big Iftar, open for all to attend. The evening started with an Erev Shavuot combo service and Q&A debate which I, alongside other members of the Muslim and Jewish communities, thoroughly enjoyed. We then moved to the dining hall as 250+ of us united for iftar – the evening meal following the breaking of our fast.

20170530_223149.jpgWith everyone sat side by side amongst members of both faith communities, the hall had a joyful lively buzz of chatter as everyone got to know one another. The dinner consisted of a lovely mixture of Middle Eastern food including hummous, falafel, bread and a range of salads. As we broke bread together (dipped into hummous of course!), we learnt about each other’s faiths, with further reflections on the meaning of Ramadan and the importance of interfaith unity by both Rabbi Helen and Sheikh Ibrahim Khalil Baye Nass.

Enjoining in a heartwarming gathering of unity, solidarity and faith, the evening was a wonderful success – albeit a bit short for those of us who had to rush off to get the train home! The Big Iftar was later followed by a scriptural reasoning and all-night study session and subsequent Shacharit sunrise service, once again open for all to attend. Little did we know though that the success of the evening and the unity it portrayed were to become more important than ever. As we reflect on the heartbreaking terrorist attacks, merely a few days later, the evening is an inspirational reminder of the need to come together in harmony.

Thank you to Rabbi Helen, Julia, David and Neil plus Nic and all other staff and members of WSL for hosting such a wonderful evening and once again, welcoming the Muslim community with warm, open arms. May we continue to come together and may there be many more big iftars to come, God willing!

Salam, shalom, peace.

Elizabeth Arif-Fear

Co-Chair, Nisa-Nashim Marylebone

Credits and information:

Article feature for WLS Shavuot Review (2017)

Photography: West London Synagogue (featured image) (c), Elizabeth Arif-Fear (c)

Find out more about the Big Iftar campaign via their website and social media platforms (Facebook and Twitter).