Column: Charity begins on the streets

Last week, I attended a carol service at the Cathedral marking 50 years since the homeless charity Shelter was founded. (In fact, I played the organ at it. There's a special thrill in being authorised to make that much noise).

Fraser Wilson
Fraser Wilson

Anyway, the Shelter representative who spoke was careful not to describe it as a ‘celebration’.

Rather, she said – I agreed – it was a shame that after all that time, such a charity is still needed.

How can it be in 2016 that there are still so many people who have so little to call their own?

Here in England, with some of the highest living standards in the world, there are people among us who simply have nowhere to sleep at night, nowhere to go home to.

Where and what is our society – our leaders – our conscience?

‘Charity’ comes from the Greek for ‘dear’. I say we all must treat everyone around us a bit more dearly. It could be our joy.

There was a very moving speech by Ed, someone who’s been supported by Shelter.

To hear at first hand how easily one can come into poverty was shocking.

It was a reminder that, no matter how secure your life might seem, it really could be anybody who finds themselves without somewhere to go, desperately trying to find a new way – or, worse, not being able to.

Shockingly, 120,000 children will be homeless this Christmas.

I don’t know how we as a civilised society can allow this.

We think of Sheffield as a friendly city, and it is – but I think it must feel very different if you’re on its streets by night, seeking warmth and safety, endlessly moving.

It must be scary, oppressive, dangerous, threatening.

You sometimes glimpse how the city can change shape so quickly.

It unsettles you. Imagine that being your life.

And imagine being ignored, or even abused, by the people around you.

The ‘normal’, ‘respectable’ citizens who have a home and a bed and a job, thank you very much, and who don’t really see you as a proper person. This is a reality for many. It breaks my heart.

What’s also real is that the smallest kindness or human connection can transform someone’s day, or week, or life.

Especially at Christmas, with its focus on having Stuff and lots of it, please let us remember this.