Simon Fowler's Blog

rLiving Day 22: “Homeless” (Continuity)

Posted by Simon on May 23, 2010

When I lived in central London, between 1996 and 2002, one group of people I saw more often than anyone else – more than my friends and family – were a specific group of homeless men and women.

Relational Proximity Dimension #2 is Continuity: our relationship is formed and strengthened by the amount, frequency and span of time we are together.

Shirley, Harry, Steve and others were regular guests at a fortnightly meal I helped run at our church near Victoria (which I’m delighted to see is still running.) It NEVER crossed my mind to try to arrange meeting friends or family more often – everyone thinks everyone is so busy it almost feels rude to ask to see people more often.

On The Street
Photo: Garry Knight

Consequently, I cherished this time with these 120-160 men and women every two weeks. The meal was intended to be a simple small act of love and giving. But frankly I found myself needing more from them than I was giving. I needed the stability and reliability of these encounters. And not just ‘generally’. It was about specific people. I would be sorely disappointed if Steve wasn’t there. I’d be sad if Shirley didn’t turn up. And if one of them hadn’t been for a few weeks I’d be thrilled to see them again. This may sound obvious or it may sound strange. But I was deeply conscious of my need for them and deeply grateful to see them regularly over those years; and especially every Christmas day for a huge, all-day meal inside the church (pews moved to the side).

‘Homeless’ isn’t quite the right word for many of them. Many had homes to go to but just preferred to be there that night. Those of us ‘homed’ folks felt the same way. I know for sure several of them chose to sleep on the streets rather than go to their lonely, empty apartments. In addition, they had more consistent relationships than many of simply by meeting together at the regular locations for meals around the city every day and every week.

It doesn’t mean they were good relationships, but I suspect the stability of seeing the same people was a comfort in some way. If they were in fact homeless and broke then a hot meal could be the only reason they were there. But the problems of family breakdown, mental illness or alcohol or drug misuse that were the dominant causes of their situation leads me to believe they deeply appreciated the human face, the smile, shake of the hand, hug, and prayer that those of us who volunteered were able to offer. We appreciated all that from them too.

We could all do with a whole lot more stability and relational continuity in our lives. Not using up time playing Chatroulette might be a start. Then perhaps we should stop thinking about whether this or that person makes us happy or not. Obsession with our own happiness causes us to miss out on a whole lot of loving and a whole lot of deeper, more satisfying relationship. If we’ll just take the risk of seeing fewer people more often, I suspect we’ll have a more satisfying relational life and feel more at home no matter where we live.


One Response to “rLiving Day 22: “Homeless” (Continuity)”

  1. Kate said

    I often found the continuity in my relationships with the homeless folks I knew to be very frustrating: I wanted them to be able to get themselves to a better place. I worked hard to keep my mind and heart open, but didn’t always succeed.

    I also found myself endlessly frustrated with public policy that closed so many mental health facilities.

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