Irish Council of Churches. Irish Inter-Church Meeting

Advent Blog Series: Homelessness & Mental Health

Andrea Donnan





In six month a lot can change – study resource from

Our dishwasher is on the blink, it does this thing where you think it has started but then stops a short time later. Or if you hit enough buttons it starts running part of the cycle on repeat until it eventually works. It is all already having a negative impact on our lives, with both of us working and a small child in the house. The dishwasher was the backbone of helping us keep on top of the housework. Then there is the washing the machine it spins so loudly now, you would think we lived on an airport runway. Having a conversation in the kitchen when it’s on has become impossible.  And I shouldn’t forget about the fridge–freezer, it is just hanging in there, as long as you remember to the slam the door shut. 

What has all of this got to do with homelessness I hear you ask? Well, all of our kitchen issues is having a little bit of negative impact on our daily lives, the dishwasher door has definitely been slammed a few times, half in hope of that might actually do the trick of getting it to work and the other half just in good old frustration. All these things are easily solved if you have resources to hand such as money, time and energy. In our house it is the energy that is lacking. 

Being homeless, is a much bigger issue, it requires a lot more resources that you have already exhausted and the mental health impacts are much, much bigger. Throughout 2020 we have all been put in a position to spend more time at home, there is even advertisements about making your home perfect as we all spend more time there. My home is certainly not perfect, the sandbags from last week’s near miss flood are still at the front door, and my current home office is a living room full of mislaid toys. Yet it is still a content home, it is warm, comfortable and there is a healthy, happy child upstairs sleeping in her own room. For many of us home is our refuge, where we retreat to after a long day. We all know that our homes are more than just the roof over our heads. 

Yet are surprised that giving someone shelter when they are homeless doesn’t magically solve all their problems. You see, we don’t become homeless when the dish washer goes on the blink, or even when everything breaks at once.  For many it when big issues build up, often mixed with an element of trauma. Then becoming homeless is a very traumatic experience in itself.

If you had moved my family into emergency accommodation, we wouldn’t be the same family we were today, we couldn’t even do the same things. I wouldn’t have been able to work from home, while also play with a toddler. There may have not been a kitchen all to ourselves, to make dinner (even thought I burned it) and complain that the dish washer wasn’t working again! It would be harder to keep two dogs and ask a friend did they want to join us for a walk later. You a see a house is more than just a home, it is part of who we are, it is where the day starts, its where the day ends and everything else in–between. 

I always think it strange how we rarely talk about Jesus’ early years we focus on how he was born in stable but then don’t talk about how Mary and Joseph weren’t able to return home. The strain that must have had a on such a young couple, with a new born baby, the poverty, loneliness and fear they must have faced when they had left their family, friends and their home.  Never mind that their lives were in danger. 

Yet when I look at image of baby Jesus in manger, I don’t see what was really a homeless family in a desperate situation, I see hope. The inn keeper that night saw a family struggling and in a need of a rest so he provided what he could. Imagine how things could change here if we were all a little more like the innkeeper.

Andrea Donnan is Deputy Manager of Hosford at East Belfast Mission

This post is one of a series on this blog which aims to provide resources for reflection and action on the topic of homelessness. Different voices representing a number of organisations will help focus us on the scale of the issues including the personal and social impact involved. The blog inputs will also offer useful suggestions for study and civic engagement. Small church community gatherings will find them most helpful. There will be seven posts in all and they will be published on every Sunday and Wednesday in Advent. Please pass on the word to others about this initiative. May Advent be a grace–filled time for you. Further resources for churches on housing insecurity and homelessness can be found at