Occasionally on a Saturday night I have the privilege of helping out at a meal held for Brighton’s street community. Most of these men and women are vulnerably housed in hostels and nightshelters. I would guess about 10% are actual rough sleepers who sleep in doorways, stairwells and car parks.

In order to reduce the numbers of rough sleepers, Brighton council introduced a strict local connection policy in approx 2001. This policy states that no one is entitled to help with housing here unless they work in Brighton or have lived here previously. This means people from out of area can’t just turn up and make use of the city’s nightshelters and hostels. People are assessed and if not seemed ‘suitable’ a train ticket is purchased and they are sent back to where they are from( regardless of the issues they may be fleeing). Nice hey?

Each saturday night, our church run project serves hot meals to 63 men and women. Last night, we also gave out Christmas stockings. Handing those stockings over and wishing  all our guests Happy Christmas individually, brought up mixed emotions in me. They were so grateful and as each one looked me directly in the eye to say thank you, I was near to tears at times. Would this be the only gift they received? Probably.Where were they going to sleep?  As they walked out into the cold rainy night clutching these stockings, I felt a bit broken to be honest. And completely powerless. Giving out the stockings felt a bit like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

I thought about this when I got home. I have been working in this field on and off for years before becoming a Christian. I should be used to this! Where was the disturbance coming from? I realised that attempting  to hold the tension between doing our little bit as Christians, and dealing with a system which completely discriminates against the poor, needy and marginalised is a tough one at the best of times and even more so at Christmas, a time for joy for some and such pain for others.

I often think about St Pat’s nightshelter in Hove. Fr Alan was part of a monastic community in the mid 80’s who allowed a couple of homeless folk to sleep in his doorway.  Over the years it developed into an emergency nightshelter and hostel, sleeping 20-25 homeless people. Sadly Fr Alan was forced to resign a couple of years ago after giving money to a drug user. I have no doubt that he was operating  from a  pure Christian heart which was always to care for the poor and the vulnerable. Again, this seems It seems this was a classic case of struggling to hold the balance between adhering to strict council and worldly policies and what Christ calls us to do.

I don’t have any answers to this post. There is no neat little  paragraph at the end to tie it all together other than these words of wisdom by Shane Claibourne.

“So if the world hates us, we take courage that it hated Jesus first. If you’re wondering whether you’ll be safe, just look at what they did to Jesus and those who followed him. There are safer ways to live than by being a Christian.”
Shane Claiborne (The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical)