Revd Richard Carter, Associate Vicar at St Martin-in-the-Fields, reflects on a moving and uplifting memorial for people who have died homeless in London
On Thursday 14 November more than 550 people filled St Martin-in-the Fields to remember 126 people who had died homeless or in hostel accommodation in the last year. In a very moving service the names of those who had died were read out and there were reflections given by some of those who had known them.
The symbols at the front of the church were the signs of homelessness that we see around us, a sleeping bag, plastic bags, an old suitcase, newspaper, flimsy tents, one belonging to Sparky who had died in the last year and used to camp in Regents Park.
At the centre a cross, and the face of Christ, like an icon of homelessness, cocooned in a sleeping bag. Christ himself who knew what it was like to have no place to lay his head.
The cross, a symbol both of pain, tragedy and abandonment, but also the hope of new life and a new united kingdom of greater justice for the poorest and most vulnerable.
The number of people sleeping rough in London has surged to a record high with a recorded 3,985 people sleeping rough across the capital from July to September 2019, a rise of 28% on last year. In our capital an average of 22 people are becoming homeless each day.
And these are just the recorded numbers, the real numbers are much higher. Shelter claim that more than 170,000 people in our capital have no home and are either homeless or very vulnerably housed in hostel and temporary accommodation and more and more people are trying to survive any way they can: in overcrowded rooms, sheds, sofa surfing, on night buses, in churches, libraries, public buildings, day centres, night shelters, bus stations, airports, using drop in centres, food handouts, or foodbanks.
They are trying to find ways to survive on the streets walking around all night, trying to get sleep in snatches. In this service we realised that more than 126 did not survive.
Public health England have recently announced the drop in the age of those dying prematurely on the streets. The average age for a man is 44 years old down from 47 as opposed to 76, the average age for a woman is 42 as opposed to 81.
At the service for those who have died homeless we also witnessed the courage, giftedness, and resilience of many of those who are homeless or have known homelessness and took part in the service.
Seventy-five members of Choir with No Name sang the song This is Me from The Greatest Showman and 35 members of Streetwise Opera sang The Journey written and composed by members of the group. There were both tears of sorrow but also of hope. Revd Lucy Winkett the rector of St James Piccadilly reflected upon the way each one of us is known and loved by God.
Afterwards the Connection at St Martin’s organised a reception where many people gathered to talk and share memories and experiences of homelessness and those who had died.
The service was organised by St Martin-in-the-Fields, Housing Justice, and The Connection at St Martin’s and was conducted by Revd Richard Carter with Alastair Murray, John Deacon and Christ Bluemel providing music.