Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Thank You – Glasgow Winter Night Shelter

I'm quite overwhelmed this year by the support given to the Glasgow Winter Night Shelter. I’m also challenged by the number of people calling for the extension of the service and to go beyond delivering a 13 week emergency service. Your passion for this work is precious and I want to try an answer your question as best I can.  

Closing the night shelter at the end of the season is never an easy thing for us to do. Our team all ache in the knowledge that for some, they’ll be back on the streets.

Yet the situation is complicated as I'm sure you can imagine. In fact I personally find myself going backwards and forwards in my mind wrestling with running an all year shelter, the pros and cons. 
There isn't an easy answer, but I want to share with you the arguments and what we feel we can do.

Homelessness is a symptom of many other things that are broken. While many believe addiction is the main cause of homelessness it is actually relationship breakdown that is one of the main factors leading to homelessness. Shelters, while important and often lifesaving, don’t provide long term solutions for those who are homeless. We want to see an end to homelessness and tackle the root causes of it and prevent it in the first place.

As well as tackling the causes of homelessness, we need to provide stable environments for people to heal and grow, this often means accommodation with intensive support to move forward, and we need to help people to take steps to improve their circumstances. Glasgow has a shortage of accommodation, and needs a blend of all types of accommodation to suit a variety of different scenarios.

The Glasgow Winter Night Shelter operates as a conduit over the winter months directing and plugging users into the local authority services and those of other providers including our own city centre project. It also acts as an emergency shelter during the harshest months of the winter. The local authority has a duty of care for many of those we serve at the night shelter, and we want Glasgow City Council to deliver on their responsibility. We believe this is a significant step forward and worth our while investing our time and resources as it has the potential to provide sustainable improvements. If we increase the length of our service we’re also nervous that the shelter becomes an accepted norm in our society rather than highlighting the scandal that homelessness is. It also could prevent the local authority from tackling the issue if they sense that we’ll always provide a service.

I'm nervous to talk about costs, only that I don’t want to use costs per say as a reason not to do something. However to give you an idea of the challenge ahead of us, if we increased our service to include November and March our costs would jump from around £55,000 to at least £115,000. Some of the increase in cost is because we would need to increase our staffing numbers to accommodate the scope for service.  Furthermore we’d need more volunteers willing to give up their time, we were short of volunteers this year and extending the time increases the commitment. It’s possible – but it’s a challenge.

It’s also desperately sad that people die on the streets during the summer months also; all too often the people we work with die in violent crime or drug overdose. We want to work all year round to prevent this from happening.

Many of those that financially support the work of the Glasgow Winter Night Shelter are suppliers of accommodation to vulnerable people and they are working tirelessly in their efforts to help people move into supported accommodation.

Any decision to extend the service would be taken in partnership with those who help us provide the service. The decision would also need to be made in September or October during the planning stages of the initiative to ensure the correct ratio of staff are employed.

One of our objectives is that in the future there is no need for the Glasgow Winter Night Shelter. To achieve this, other services need to improve and we’ll only know if this is happening if numbers start to drop at the night shelter. Looking at the data this year our service is still very much needed.

I hope this memo doesn't sound as though we have comfortably come to our conclusions, we also weep with the knowledge that every night in Glasgow there are people sleeping rough and we want to help. I also hope that this memo doesn't appear as an excuse for doing less because we feel compelled to do more – we must find a way of doing more which has the most impact. It mustn’t become about what makes me feel better, but rather what genuinely makes the best impact on people who have chaotic lifestyles.

Unfortunately increasing the time that we run the service for isn’t a decision that can be made at the last minute. The shelter requires a significant amount of planning and once the dates are set, staff are brought on board for a particular time.

Can I reassure you that there will be discussions about running next years’ service for a longer period and I will do my best to express the depth of feeling from our supporters to the other partners involved with the night shelter.

Can I personally thank you for your support, interest, prayers and passion and I look forward to working with many of you again in providing a much needed service.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Social Justice and Equality

I’ve just had the privilege on speaking about what Social Justice and Equality mean to me at the Scottish Parliament. I was asked to share the platform with Alex Neil MSP, the newly appointed Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice. 

Here’s an outline

The gospel according to Matthew records that Jesus said “…do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also.[i] It seems such a strange saying, almost advocating a pacifist “please just hit me again it doesn’t matter” response. While we instantly recognise that it’s a non-violent response, we don’t seem to understand why the other cheek? Are we to be door mats to be stepped on?

Rather this is actually a non-violent protest, a statement of equality that would have reverberated around the city and nation.

You see in order to be slapped on “the right cheek” you must strike with the back of your hand, and action that is strongly associated with master and slave, ruler and subservient, or someone of lower status in society. Equals would come to blows, or use palm of the hand. Hence turning the other cheek is a provocative statement of equality, it says I am not less than you, I am your equal and you should treat me as such.

Social Justice and Equality are much talked about subjects, and many work hard to achieve it, yet it still seems that they are forever on the horizon, just in view but out of reach.

Too often there are people in society who are invisible to us, that we don’t see or don’t notice, people who often need seen, heard and understood. Sadly and painfully we’re all too well aware that depending on where geographically you are born, and in to what kind of family can, with a few notable exceptions, often have devastating effects on your prospects.

Yet the value of a life born into poverty is no different from those born into security. We’re all different but “We're a' Jock Tamson's Bairns”

Sometimes we need to work a little harder with those who are vulnerable to level the playing field to provide the same opportunities for all of society. I feel compelled to work for a society that acknowledges that it must do more to support disadvantaged people – to help them reach their full potential.

Genesis tell us that God created us as to be human in His image, an image and something of our humanity was quickly broken. While I would strongly argue that it is Christ who redeems us, there is something in our care for the other that makes us all more human and less broken. As we participate in caring communities, we become more of who we were created to be as we give and receive the community’s care. That for me is just the start of Social Justice and Equality.

[i] Matthew 5:39 NLT

Friday, 10 October 2014

Ready for Change

Sometimes it is too easy to focus on what’s not happening in our city. We can be quick to moan about what’s broken and look for someone to blame. We have a habit of blaming our politicians and civic leaders for what goes on (or doesn't) in our society – we forget that we actually all have a significant part to play in shaping our culture.

Every day we choose and prioritise what we personally tolerate or commend, by either ignoring it or participating in it. What kind of society do you want to live in?

This week I was asked to come and speak at Glasgow’s Annual Homelessness Conference. Glasgow City Chambers Banqueting hall was full with over 200 delegates from the sector. Local authority, Social work services, charities, housing associations, NHS, not-for-profits and many more gathered to encourage, discuss and challenge each other as how best to serve the city’s most vulnerable.

I was able to share that Glasgow actually recorded some improvement in homelessness in the last five years – with a 38% reduction in applications for accommodation. However sadly what is being recorded is only a small percentage of the picture. Many non-statutory organisations either don’t record what they are witnessing or if they do collate data, have no vehicle to share that information with all the other agencies in the sector.

We know we have a problem of homelessness in Glasgow but the more I look into the problem the more complex it becomes. We recognised that we actually have to take the time to dig deep and uncover what’s going on and encourage many to share data and pull resources together to make a difference.

Working in isolation, no matter how capable you are, is nothing compared to working together.

The Apostle Paul challenged the Church in Corinth[i] to recognise that the Church is like a body, one body – many parts. It is a community of God given gifts, talents and skills. Working in harmony and encouraging each other the Kingdom of God can be seen, experienced and enjoyed.

There is recognition that across the city people aren't working well together. As a Christ centred organisation we have an opportunity to model collaboration and community. We can share.

What kind of society do I want to live in? One where there is a sense of responsibility, community and compassion – where we all work together.

[i] 1st Corinthians 12

Friday, 1 August 2014

Our Games

I’m currently witnessing sport and competition at its very best, determination, participation, encouragement and team work. The Commonwealth Games has brought a “buzz” to Glasgow. While Usain Bolt may or may not appreciate Glasgow almost everyone else is enjoying the carnival atmosphere.

Ensuring that those on the margins are brought into the centre of the festivities we hosted some games for our clients.

So often the men and women we serve face the day already feeling that they are beaten, they've lost and there is no point even trying. By the time we meet people at Glasgow City Mission they have been fighting and losing for so long, that they have already chosen to hide in addictive and destructive behaviour.
Table Tennis
Today Friday 1st August I’m watching this very same group of people compete like their lives depended on it. I’m witnessing engagement and full participation, even when it’s difficult. I’m seeing people fall over, fail, not make the mark and yet pick themselves up and have another go. We've got long jump, basketball hoop challenge, football keepie ups, street bowls, 100m sprint, badminton and table tennis.

The noise at our main office on Crimea Street is quiet loud today, in fact the neighbours might complain. It’s not a destructive negative noise, it’s cheering, it’s support, it’s the constant noise of encouragement – it’s what’s needed.

I can’t explain how personally exciting this all is for me. We work with these guys day in day out, and sometimes the whole “hopelessness” of the situation gets to the staff and volunteers too. But today, today is all about the possibility of winning. Today people are winning, and it’s BRILIIANT!!!

One of our jobs at Glasgow City Mission is to be the encourager to help those we serve to participate, engage, and remain determined and to help each other dust ourselves down and keep going. The apostle Paul reminded the Philippian Church that he could do all things in Christ who gave him strength[i]. It is still true for us today. The Spirit of Jesus continues to give us strength, strength to do the things we cannot do on our own.

We can and do see real change in the lives of the men and women we serve. We can have real hope for real change. Sometimes we all just need reminded of it.

[i] Philippians 4:13

Monday, 7 July 2014

Supporters not commentators

Estadio Do Maracana, Rio de Janeiro

The FIFA world cup final will be played in Estadio Do Maracana, Rio de Janeiro. The stadium has a capacity of nearly 79,000. That’s a lot of football fans. Wimbledon Centre court capacity is 15,000 and whilst that is an awful lot smaller you’ve still got to ask how they fit 15,000 people into that area. The Commonwealth Games venues such as Hampden Park will have a seating capacity of 44,000, while the Emirates Indoor Arena can seat up to 7000.
This summer appears to be a feast for sports fans, so much to watch, but are we supporters or commentators?

While we all love to analysis a game or a race, examining the tactics, the competitor’s preparation and the mistakes they made, it’s pretty easy to comment afterwards. It’s much harder being in amongst the athletes actually competing, living and breathing each moment.

However there is a place for those who want to watch; those who are passionate about the sport and who feel they want to be part of it. They are not commentators, they are supporters. They are the 12th man, the home support that changes the atmosphere, the noise that carries the runner home. They are genuine supporters. They make a difference, they bring “Home Advantage”.

In recent weeks we’ve become freshly and acutely aware of Glasgow City Mission’s supporters. We’ve got a great team of volunteers, a marvellous staff team and have some really positive partnerships which all help us serve those in most need. However we also have some wonderful supporters.
We need our supporters to continue to cheer us on, to call out, to clap and encourage – and we need you to pray!

We’ve recently seen what supporters can do through their prayers and noise from the side-lines when a decision that seemed irreversible regarding our Child and Family Centre was changed.

We need supporters who will continue to Pray and Participate in the work of Glasgow City Mission.

To seek out the Legacy we wish to see in Glasgow after the Commonwealth Games have been and gone, we’re hosting a prayer event Thursday 24thJuly 7.30pm at our main building in Crimea Street.

Don’t just be a commentator – be a supporter.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Not in my backyard!

Last week Glasgow City Council were met with significant opposition from local residents when they announced that they were planning to accommodate 40 homeless men in Burnbank House, Burnbank Gardens. The accommodation is currently being emptied of its elderly residents in preparation for the conversion.  It’s a two year temporary solution to allow the local authority to build purpose built premises in Possil.[i]

The local residents have expressed their concerns that men with drug and alcohol addictions and many with criminal records will be located right next door to young families the elderly and single women.

Meanwhile metal studs have been installed to deter homeless people from sleeping outside a block of flats in Southwark in London.  There is a fear when residents walk past someone sleeping rough. It’s sparked a debate about how we treat those who are homeless.

Take a moment and consider how you would feel if a homeless unit for 40 men was built next door to your house? What is going to be the impact? “Will there be a rise in petty crime, drug use and maybe violence. Will I go out alone at night, will I go out at all?” It may even affect the value of your house on the open market. Would you advocate the installment of metal studs outside your accommodation if it prevented rough sleepers?

I’m assuming that nobody deliberately moves into a street or area because it has these services. However whenever people speak about homelessness, everyone agrees that a certain amount of supported accommodation is required.

Where should it be located then? Do we need an Alcatraz style solution in the middle of the Clyde? Do we want to see ghettos in the city marked out for addicts and the broken?

Interestingly enough Jesus makes such a deliberate move. He comes to a cesspit of sin and destruction and lives with us. Eats with us, laughs with us and weeps with us. He dies and is raised to life for us. He does it all when he deliberately moves to be with us – we call it the incarnation.

We find hope in “God with us”. It changed the early followers of Jesus, and it changes us today.  In being present with us, what we saw, heard and experienced changed us. A remarkable love and acceptance of who we were, and understanding of our brokenness and a refusal to leave us broken.

So here’s an uncomfortable challenge to a church parish or Christian community. Who will deliberately invite the local authority to build a homelessness unit in their neighbourhood? Who will support it and engage with those in it. Who’s willing to see the potential in people?

People Make Glasgow – so the banners tell us, and they really do, every one of us. Not just the nice people that we’d invite in for a meal, everyone. Those caught in addiction make Glasgow, those who sleep rough make Glasgow, and those with mental health issues make Glasgow. However, if we haven’t already, we’re in danger of creating two Glasgow’s.

Monday, 19 May 2014

188 years

 How long will the poor, broken and abused struggle?

Glasgow City Mission will have its Annual General Meeting at the end of May. In 1826 David Naismith established the first City Mission in the world, right here in Glasgow. I often wonder how long he thought the movement would be needed. We’ve got minute books going all the way back to Glasgow City Missions inception, they are a fascinating read.

Glasgow has seen some great significant changes since those days, improved housing, sanitation, welfare state and education. It’s no longer 1826 – and like many I’m grateful for that. Poverty looks a little different, however there is still poverty in Glasgow.

Have you ever wondered why people behave, or react the way they do? When you ask children when they are little, what they want to be when they grow up, they don’t say… “I want to be an addict” or “I’d like to be a prostitute” or “Petty criminal sounds fun”. Somewhere in our life we can either be given more hope or it can be stolen from us. This junction can have a significant bearing on how we behave towards others and society in the future. Once bitten, twice shy.

The state can and does provide better accommodation than those in 1826 can ever imagine, it provides healthcare which would have been a fantasy when Glasgow City Mission was established. However in a world of hidden darkness and abuse, we still get to know men and women with horrendous childhoods, which have robbed them of hope, and then they turn to self-destructive methods of coping.  If we want to see an end to this form of poverty, we must eradicate the poverty of hope! In its place the men and women we love and serve need to see and have a hope and a future. [i]

As someone trying to follow Jesus, I’m convinced we’re supposed to reveal something of this hope and future to others. We should live in a way that reflects this hope, and gives others a taste of it. Will you join us in praying for change and participating in it? Would you be willing to befriend one or two people caught in a poverty of hope and journey with them to enjoy of life in all its fullness[ii], a life of the ages[iii]?

My children have fantastic dreams of the future. Children still dream about flying cars and teleporting. My dreams for the future and much less fanciful: I just want to ensure that in the next 188 years we see the end of poverty. What are your dreams?  

[i] Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)
[ii] John 10:10 (TLB)
[iii] Titus 1:2 (Weymouth)