Homelessness

25 January 2004 | Faith & Society

Homelessness Sunday is marked by a number of churches and charities on or around the last Sunday in January.

 

One disfiguring aspect of homelessness is not being treated as a person. Art is one way through which the individuality of people who are homeless can be expressed and honoured. This is the first of two poems included by permission in this book which were produced by the creative writing group at St Martin-in-the-Fields. The group works with people who are homeless in central London. The poems, which are not religious, have been chosen for two reasons. They allow someone who was (maybe is) homeless to speak in his own voice. And they paint their own picture of London life today.

 

This poem comes from ‘Orange for Farewells: Writing from St Martin-in-the-Fields 2002’.

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THE GHETTO IN THE VENUE

I live in a drab part of London

near a small industrial estate

There’s a pub nearby with a venue built on

It’s called the Bull and Gate.

 

Aspiring rock bands play there

they're angry and dangerous and cool

They’re always white and male and middle-class

and they’ve just left public school.

 

I’ll tell you why I don’t like Mondays

‘cos they unload speakers, mike stands and keyboards and miles of wire

from a big van hogging the pavement.

It’s always a white one – on bloody hire.

 

But they’re polite young men.

I explain to my African friend

who owns the nearby shop

that the colonisation of our pavement

is an essential part of Brit-Pop.

 

He seems to get my irony

and acknowledges it with a smile.

There’s ten yards between us and the rockers.

Could as well be ten thousand miles.

 

I glance around at the natural scenery:

Hindu off-licence, Kurdish kebab shop and Greek Cypriot chippie

blend in this unselfconscious corner of the inner city.

 

But the bands of yoof-ful followers

stand out in their search for authenticity

uniforms adhere to what pressures from peers

says is non-conformity.

 

Woolly hats cling over the ears

Jeans whose crotch hangs down to the ground

The plumage, the postures of the pseudo drop-outs

who've dropped in to sample the post-grunge sound.

 

Milling around the venue’s private entrance

They sip bottled designer beers.

In the pub itself Irish builders drink Guinness.

There’s five seconds between them

Could as well be five thousand years.

 

Quentin Bile

 

 

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Lord Jesus Christ

You did not mock our symbols of identity. You did not despise the hands, the clothes, the smells and the accents which mark out a fisherman, a prostitute, a landlord or a teacher. But you always challenged us to reach beyond these symbols, and to realise that the only chasms between people are the ones within our hearts.

You never made a fisherman who was only a fisherman.

You never made a homeless person who was only homeless.

You never made a commuter hurrying by, or a shopper, a police officer or a bully who was only a commuter, a shopper, a police officer or a bully.

You only made children of God.

By your grace give us eyes which can see this.

Just a second