When I was asked to write this post I wasn’t sure I had much hope left.
I started working in this sector in my early twenties around twelve years ago. In this time homelessness has continued to rise, while funding has continued to be cut. More and more young people are presenting to our services with complex needs such severe mental health issues and poly drug use, and staff are often having to medically intervene due to overdoses. Now we had Covid in the mix I was sure we were entering into a new level of chaos that I wasn’t sure we would all survive.
However here we are in November, and hope while I haven’t always seen it, it’s been there.
So far, we have managed to keep our homeless hostel and other support services open and haven’t had a Covid outbreak. Most of our staff have also stayed well. The exact opposite of what I expected to happen in March this year.
While Covid is still very much in the forefront of our minds and continues to bring many challenges to our work. Positive things have been able to happen. I have found hope in all sorts of ways.
There are the practical things like since March we have had more residents than expected, who have been able to move out into the community and move on with their lives.
We have had more funding made available to us, meaning as a whole service we can thrive rather than just survive.
Our staff have constantly rolled up their sleeves and got on with task in hand. No matter how worried they have been about the risk to their health and their families. Our partners in the community and funders who have helped ensure we could keep our services going and made donations, make this context a little less difficult.
We as a staff team have also been amazed at how the people, we have worked with have been so resilient. They have worked alongside us when Covid brought so many more restrictions on what was already a much more restricted life, than any of us can comprehend.
Ecclesiastes Chapter 3 talks about for everything there is season, this year I have greatly struggled to understand where this season of Covid fits in to my life and those around me. Like the writer of Ecclesiastes I have felt utter frustration and sorrow, that a generation goes, and a generation comes but the earth remains forever. From the history of East Belfast Mission we can see that people have been working in this area to tackle poverty and the issues around it, for nearly two hundred years, but there is still so much more to do.
Yet here we are entering the season of Christmas and a reminder of the hope the birth of a tiny baby brings to the world. A new vision that our work on earth does have meaning and there is more than the darkness we see in front us. A reminder that the purpose of the Church is to strive for change in the world around us. A reminder that God always did and always will love the world. John 3:16.
Until this year I didn’t really think the Church in this island was that interested in homelessness but my eyes have opened to the fact that people here do have a heart to understand and to change our housing history. The resource In Six Months A Lot Can Change was a great tool to start talking about homelessness and all the issues around it from government policy to why people become find themselves in such a desperate situation. It has been a privilege, and something I hope to continue into 2021.
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 irishchurches.org/homeless.