THESE ARE hard times for the poor. Not many would argue with that. UK Government austerity measures have meant that increasing numbers of people are unable to make ends meet. Food banks are busier than ever (according to an article in the Guardian, three open every week) and recent headlines reveal that child poverty is again on the increase. Over 6 million people are unemployed or underemployed and benefits and the minimum wage rates are falling well behind that of inflation. Key charities are struggling financially, leaving some of our most vulnerable citizens badly in need of support.
At Coventry Jesus Centre ‘The Bridge’ drop-in is open five mornings a week: free breakfasts, showers and clothes are provided and laundry is done at a small fee. About 250 visits by 110-130 individual visitors are clocked each week.The ‘Bond Scheme’ is run by Coventry Jesus Centre to enable people who are homeless to access and hold onto private rented accommodation. About 180 have been housed since October 2005 when the scheme was set up.
‘Your learning’ was set up in 2010 as a scheme to impart skills needful for life in the UK such as speaking, reading, writing, job search or computer skills. Around 60 individuals attend sessions each week, some of them twice.
But let’s leave aside the big picture and put ourselves in the shoes of the poor, the vulnerable and the unskilled. After all, what would you feel like if:
You missed a vital appointment at Jobcentre Plus because you couldn’t read the appointment letter. You’re scared you’ll lose your benefits.
Your child comes home from school, aged 5, and can read better than you.
You live on friends’ settees – or maybe in a garage – hoping you won’t be found out. You’ve got no money to pay the deposit for a flat.
You are an addict and have lost your home; your four children have been taken into care. You ask, ‘Is life really worth living?’
Your husband was murdered in the country you came from, you fled and haven’t seen your only child for three years; your asylum case is dragging on and on … no chance of settling yet in the UK .. No chance of seeing your child.
You were a trained doctor in your own country but don’t speak much English. You would love to use your professional qualifications but that’s just not possible at the moment. Any job would do but there’s not much going.
We meet people every day at Coventry Jesus Centre who face predicaments like these and we try our best to help them. After all, that is exactly what Jesus told us to do: loving people and going out of our way to meet their needs – both human and spiritual. Remember the story of the Good Samaritan?
We call it the Jesus Centre because we want to share His heart, His love, for all the people that enter the doors. It’s not always easy at times and whatever we do, it will be tiny compared to the enormity of the problem.
So, let’s put a face on ‘the poor’. Here are some examples of people who have recently stepped through the doors of the Jesus Centre:
Malika, 40 years old, is from India. She has never had a paid job as she has always looked after sick relatives. Her husband found another woman and she was made unwelcome in her own home. No job, no settled home. She applied for a job in a care home and was terrified when she heard she had an interview. We did our best, giving her some intensive interview practice. Succeeding at an interview seemed out of her reach and we were over the moon when she got the job. She moved into her own place a little while later.
Filip is a homeless man from Eastern Europe. He drinks a lot and sometimes, on an evening, I see him swaying and staggering down the street. I was proud the other day when I gave him a certificate for attending ten English classes. We had to hold onto it for him as he has nowhere to keep it safe.
Filip has his ups and downs – sometimes drinking, sometimes not. He’s got a great sense of humour. We laugh together and, you know, fun and cheek is just what he needs … he’s got to speak back to me in English
Brigita is from Latvia. She was faltering and very unconfident in her English skills; phone calls and interviews are her nightmare. She comes twice a week to the Jesus Centre to learn and building up her confidence is our biggest challenge.
Recently she helped us with the cleaning at the Jesus Centre. We made sure she knew a range of cleaning words: toilet, sweep, mop, and so on, because she really wanted a job.
Recently Brigita’s friend came to the Jesus Centre for a ‘Bridge’ breakfast (we supply free breakfasts for homeless and vulnerable people). He had a smile on his face. “Brigita has got a cleaning job,” he said. He told us that she had received a phone call about the job and had managed to understand and respond to the call. We want to empower more people like Brigita. There are thousands like her.
Chris used to be an alcoholic and years of addiction have affected his ability to process and retain information. He can’t spell but he can read although he can’t get his head around long words he doesn’t recognise. He’s determined to learn though and comes each week for some practice. He’s a determined guy and always very thankful for our help.
Elwira and Wincent are a couple from Poland. They were homeless and joined our Bond Scheme. We managed to house them but home is more than four walls and a roof! They often come to the Jesus Centre, to classes, to social activities and our Sunday morning church meeting.
Dave is homeless. He had all his papers stolen in the park where he slept. He had to fill in a form to get a crisis loan and can’t write. We helped Dave fill in his form. Hopefully one day he will learn to write with confidence. It’s hard to concentrate on learning when you haven’t got a home.
These are ‘the forgotten people’ but to me they’re the unforgettable. The impression they have made on my life is huge; I’d be poorer, much poorer in soul without them; I gain from them as much as ever I give. This is what Jesus Centres are about – lifting up, upholding, empowering the poor and marginalised. The economic downturn is here to stay – for a while at least – and so are its greatest victims. It’s our God-given opportunity to learn to love the poor. Thank God for Jesus Centres.
* all names have been changed to protect identity.