Letters - 15 January 2021

From Homelessness to A testing time


The St Martin-in-the-Fields appeal has become a familiar part of the approach to Christmas. The work done by that charity for the support of people who have lost their homes is admirable and the sheer persistence of those who want to help others is inspiring.   

However, I was profoundly shocked to hear that the appeal has been going out for ninety-four years. It began during the interwar depression when my mother was a small child. Life was very different from ours now and the country was much less wealthy. It is a terrible indictment of our society today that we still have such a large problem of poverty and homelessness.

Why do we still need to rely on charitable action to relieve homelessness? This is not a poor country. Individuals lose their home for many reasons, some through their own actions and some through the actions of others. For many there is a mixture of causes. The one thing they all need is a home where they can feel safe and secure, an address that gives access to work, and interaction with the wider world. The other thing that a home gives is status, a place in the world, and self-respect. A person who has been homeless for any length of time is likely to need additional support, but a home is the basic need.

I recently read a book called Utopia for Realists by Rutger Bregman. It describes experiments with schemes giving money and housing to homeless people to help them and reduce civic problems. They all actually saved money for the authorities concerned from reduced policing, social work and legal expenses. I was also interested to learn more about the ideas around universal basic income, which is gaining support.

I was pleased when support was given to get rough sleepers off the streets during this pandemic, but we need to ensure they are enabled to use this as an opportunity to make a new start. The past year has been very hard for everyone and terrible for many. It would be wonderful to take some positive good from this time.

The problem of poverty and homelessness is one for the whole of society. It speaks to the kind of people we are. My dream is to live in a country that cares adequately for its more vulnerable citizens. We have a generous and caring population but they need the assistance of government to eradicate need. Poverty and homelessness are a disgrace for our country.

Jacky Thomas

‘Overseer’ and ‘oversight’

In response to Celia Waterhouse’s article (1 January 2021), might I suggest that we give up trying to find a word to replace the title ‘overseer’, which many people find inappropriate, and opt for describing members who hold that position, quite simply, as what they are: members of the Meeting pastoral team?

Do they need a fancy name? Personally I think not. Those folk who are asked to take on the important role of ‘oversight’ are carrying out valuable and sometimes challenging pastoral work, usually as part of a team. It should be enough, surely, to refer to them as just that.

Besides, the rate at which some words in the English language change their meaning can be quite alarming, as words mutate and carry different connotations. So, just as words such as ‘overseer’ can be acceptable to one generation and offensive to another, I would caution against opting for a new word to replace ‘overseer’. 
Ann Barnes

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