Today I have felt angry, sad, helpless and hopeless, I have been given a rare chance to truly spend a few hours in somebody else's shoes and it was heartbreaking. Yesterday I met a young man who has recently been released from prison, he came to Blackpool using his travel warrant, and with a bit of money in his pocket. He had been in prison for 7 years and was very disorientated, his money quickly gone he came to us for help, and I have been trying to help him to get onto the benefits system, to find somewhere to live.
He does have family but they have disowned him, he has no address, no money, no shelter, nothing but the red holdall that contains a spare shirt, a sleeping bag and a few out of date forms and contact numbers.
He had been to the housing team at Blackpool Council, but they are so overwhelmed that they could do nothing straight away, he went to the two homeless hostels in the town but they were both full. With no address he is unable to claim benefits, with no phone or computer he has not got an easy way to apply for them, the library who do have computers turned him away because he has no address, so as we have done before we have allowed him to use the church as his home address, then we got onto the phone to call the Job Centre Plus, I made the initial call because he was so overwhelmed. Six different phone numbers, a lot of button pushing and sets of canned instructions telling me it would be easier to apply on -line later we finally got through to a human being. I handed him the phone.
You'd have thought that being able to speak to a real human being that the saga might have been over, but no, I sat with him as he repeated his details not once, not twice but eight different times and still he was not able to access the system. We will tray again this evening as I am taking my laptop to church, hopefully things will be easier on line!
I can see now with fresh eyes why people simply give up and walk away, why people feel hopeless and helpless and rail against the system, after an hour of listening to canned responses, after repeating the same information over and over again, after that sense that you are not a person with a name and needs and feelings but a number, a statistic to be crunched by a faceless bureaucracy!
Now I know that the Job Centre Staff and Local Councils are overwhelmed but I weep for the lack of humanity in the system and I am grateful that we can offer a listening ear, a bit of company and plenty of tea. I am also grateful for ourlovely volunteers many of whom have been in and through the system and are able to give us an understanding of it. I am grateful for the way that they reach out in generosity giving so often from the little that they have. I am grateful also today for the swift response of our local MP Paul Maynard who truly does care about the people he serves.
Having said all of that I am left feeling sad, overwhelmed and not a little helpless and hopeless, I am rarely reduced to tears but today I was, mostly because the young man is so much more than a statistic, he is not a problem to be solved, he is a human being with needs and feelings, and more than anything he needs other human beings to notice that he is a human being, to see his worth and to count him as worthy of love and care. Today I walked a mile in his shoes and I have been humbled by the experience, he was so grateful for the little that we did.
My prayer is that we will not become so overwhelmed by the need that surrounds us that we are unable to respond, that we won't become hardened by the constant flood of need that we fail to see the humanity in the folk who come to us, that we might like Mother Theresa be able to see Christ, the image and revelation of God in we share with those we are called to serve. Today this young man drew me from my self and I am grateful.
Heaven touching earth: photo mine