This is a letter, but I am not sure who I am writing to! I thought about writing to David Cameron, as I have done in the past, but I have decided that I am not sure that will do much good! There are so many well written letters and articles circulating following the election results last week that my meagre offering will simply end up in a sea of many, and I will probably simply repeat what many others are saying!
I have also thought about writing to the church, but again, many many people have written good and thought provoking articles and letters concerning what our response should be, and how God works through our weaknesses to reveal his love, and invite us into another way of living. I agree with these whole heartedly, and have been challenged to think about my own life as a disciple of Jesus Christ as a result, but I want to say something more.
I think I want to speak to anybody who will listen, I want to speak to those who would call themselves spiritual, and to those who would not. Perhaps more than anything I want to write to anyone who voted Conservative, not because I want to bash you, I am sure you had good reasons for voting as you did, but please, please just pause to hear our story.
I want to speak to the rich and the poor alike because we all need the basics of life to survive, food, water, shelter, warmth and most of all friendship/ companionship. We need to know that we are not alone.
We are of course not alone, but sometimes circumstances, and maybe particularly when hope is gone and despair enters into our lives in a big way we feel alone, vulnerable, desparate and afraid. I meet people who feel like this on a regular basis, many come to our drop in “The Comfort Zone” in Blackpool. Some of these folk are homeless, others are simply struggling, really genuinely struggling to make ends meet. Through the winter folk are faced with the choice between heating or eating, we regularly give out candles and tea-lights to people with no money left on their meters.
It is easy to say that the people we see week by week should pull their socks up and get on with it, get out there and find a job, I have heard people say that, and if you reading this happen to be one of those people I would like to ask you, just for a little while to place yourslef into the shoes of someone who is scared and hungry. Imagine you have woken for breakfast, but there is nothing to eat, you do have a tea bag and some sugar, but very little milk, so you make do on that. You need to get to the library to log on to the Job Centres system, and you are going to have to walk the mile and a half because you do not have the bus fare. If you don’t get there and log on as required you will be sanctioned AGAIN, for not doing enough to find work. On the way home you call in at a local church who provide you with a bag of food, while you are grateful for this you long for something other than soup, beans and corned beef! Luckily today they had some bread to give out, at least you can have toast tomorrow!
Imagine then that this is your daily routine, imagine the feared Job Centre appointments where everything you have done is scrutinised, and you dread the outcome. Imagine applying for job after job and hearing nothing. You are doing all that you can but it is NEVER enough it seems.
Now imagine that your last pair of shoes has worn out, or that your neighbours bath overflows and floods your flat, or you need to get to the next town for an appointment, or to travel to see a sick relative or go to a funeral. Life suddenly becomes overwhelmingly impossible, and a hard slog along a steep path suddenly becomes an impassable mountain, oh and please don’t think I am exaggerating because these are stories, true stories that I have heard over the last few months as many people come to us on the edge of despair, and over the edge.
I have asked you to imagine this because I am fed up of hearing about the undeserving poor, and I want to point out our shared humanity, yet I find that difficult in a country where 16 members of the Governments new Cabinet are millionaires! I wonder if they can even imagine the living conditions of some of the folk we serve here in Blackpool, people who are living in tents, people who sleep in carparks, people who have difficult (rich) landlords who fail to care for their tennants.
I am also fed up with watching our wonderful volunteers struggle, ths week our food stocks hit an all time low, we gave away our last sleeping bag, and while food and more sleeping bags have arrived we operate on the edge. Our wonderful and hardworking Chaplain, Lynn greeted me this week with the words “what on earth are we going to do?” our manager Paul reported 103 people had used our service that morning, with 12 sleeping rough. We gave out over 70 food bags and provided tea and breakfast for everyone. We are overwhelmed and fear that things are ony going to get worse, especially with the projected benefit cuts, and no sight to the ending of the benefit sanctions system.
What are we going to do?
Well we are going to carry on, but we need help and support, we and so many other groups like us need ordinary people to come along side us, to see the need, the real need, that people in this land are facing on a daily basis, and anyone can do this, no matter what your religious or spiritual belief, no matter what your politics or ideology, you can reach out in some way to help another human being, because at the end of the day that is what this is about, for these folk are our neighbours, and could be our friends, they certainly have the same needs and wants and desires as the rest of us. Grinding poverty and fear are disabling, and even crippling in peoples lives, having damaging results to mental health and self esteem.
So I leave you with a plea, please look beyond the statistics to the person, and just maybe you can join us in saying, there but for the grace of God go I….
… and echo our cry
“What are we going to do?”
…and just maybe we will come up with some real answers together…