Homeless in Falkirk? Forget it.

We clergy who live over the shop (ie next door to the church) are used to callers. These can vary from photocopier salesmen (yes, all men) to those men (yes, all men) who have some tarmac ‘left over’ from a job down the road that they could use to pave my carpark at a very reasonable rate to those who need something. The latter are in the majority. The ‘something’ they need can vary too. Usually it is money.

begging-cup1Each week I probably have about 5-10 callers who need money. Money for electricity cards, for food, for baby food, for train fares because a close relative has died far, far away, for phone cards for that urgent phone call, for all manner of things. All of them look down on their luck and some are more sober than others. Some are so stoned they can hardly stand or speak. All of their stories begin with “This is the God’s honest truth” and often it isn’t.

It is a tricky situation. They have come to me because they believe that as a representative of the church, I will not say no. That as a representative of the church, my job is to help those less fortunate than myself. But usually I suspect that the money I might give will be spent in the local off-licence or junkie. Perhaps you think that this is okay. That it is their choice and that the good Samaritan gives without question. I don’t believe I’m a very good Samaritan. And I don’t often have any money anyway.

The stories they tell are sometimes long and elaborate. They are often heartbreaking. Remember I used to work with homeless people and I’ve heard some of those stories before. Some, I know, are tall tales. Tales spun out of desperation for the alleviation of their addiction. Tales which I often admire for their creativeness. Sometimes they tell me they have a faith or are born again and that this should count for extra consideration. Some want me to let them in so they can tell their story in peace.

My Vestry are concerned for my safety. Not long after I came here a man tried to kick my front door in because I wouldn’t give him money. I now have locks and chains and a sign on the door which says I don’t give out money. I feel bad about that sign in my door but I know it is for my own safety. I do give out food and drinks. I make cups of tea and fill bags with food which might fill a gap. I refer folk to the Salvation Army up the road who provide hot meals, clothes and washing facilities, and give out food parcels when the Foodbank is closed, but often people come to my door when the Sally Army are closed or at the weekend. And often they tell me its not food they want, its cash. I wonder what other clergy do?

Early on Sunday evening a man came to my door called David. He wanted me to pray for him. Now that I can do. But first he wanted to tell me his story. He wanted us to go somewhere, perhaps the church, where he could tell me what he wanted me to pray for. David is from Lithuania and his English wasn’t very good. He was tall and looked quite clean, with a small backpack and an umbrella. There was no smell of drink and no signs of drug abuse. I asked him to tell his story on the doorstep which didn’t please him but he reluctantly agreed. He’d come over for work which was promised but didn’t materialise. He was sleeping rough in the park when he was beaten up and had spent four days in hospital. (He showed me his hospital wristband, his bruises, his loose teeth.) I think he wanted money for a phone card but I truly didn’t have any money in my purse. He wanted food and coffee and I gave him some and I prayed with him. On the doorstep. The hospital had given him clean clothes and the backpack but no socks and he wanted some but mine were too small. “No man?” he asked incredulously. He wanted me to write down the name of the hospital because he was to go back the next morning at 9am for a follow-up appointment about his ribs, I think. Translation was not easy. (The hospital is over 4 miles away.)

In my heart I knew I should have done more for David. But where could I take him? There is nowhere in Falkirk which does emergency accommodation. And would I be brave enough to get in my car with a 6′ man and drive anywhere? I ended up suggesting the Roman Catholic church because I know they have a big Presbytery and there are plenty men around. But I should have taken him myself. I was too scared.

Yesterday I phoned the local housing department and asked what I could have done. They said he wouldn’t get a house anyway unless he comes from Falkirk or unless he could pay. “No point in giving a house if they can’t pay for gas and electricity,” they said. There are no hostels in Falkirk, no places where someone can sleep out of the cold and rain. Their advice to me was to phone the Lithuanian Embassy in London. “Nothing we can do if he’s come here with no return ticket.”

So my question is: what do you do? If you don’t live in a big city with hostels and temporary accommodation, where do you refer people to? Because nine times out of ten, they come in the evening or at weekends out of office hours. I sometimes suggest the Police but I’ve never had anyone take my up on that suggestion once. They may say they’ve been there already, but often I suspect it is the last place they’d go. In retrospect perhaps I should have phoned the police about David.

He’s still in my mind and my prayers. What would you have done?

feet poor

16 thoughts on “Homeless in Falkirk? Forget it.

  1. I would have done what you did, with the same knowledge that it is all that can be done and with great sorrow that I could not do more. But I agree, it is a sad thing that no more could have been done.

    • Theres a young man very young sitting outside asda falkirk he looks very unkempt he said his mum has thrown him out and he has nowhere to go begging for hostel money i gave him what i had but its not right he was freezing is there anyone who could help this young lad he said salvation army fed him but no help to house go to asda in falkirk see for yourself its weighing on my mind heavily :,(((

      • It is so sad to see young people reduced to begging. I’m afraid I don’t live in Falkirk so can’t do anything but I know there is no housing or hostels around. You might suggest he gets in touch with the Big Issue because they provide support as well as an opportunity to make some money.

  2. Bummer 😦
    I too wouldn’t have driven him anywhere (fell foul of that once, with an alcoholic whom I though I knew well…He attempted to seize the steering wheel at one point in the journey & also tried to drag another rough sleeping friend into the car so he could share our trip to the foodbank – and the whole experience was both terrifying and dangerous); equally I wouldn’t have known what I SHOULD do. Even in a city, where there is some limited provision available on a 1st come 1st served basis, there’s never the right thing at the right time…and the struggle between longing to be kind and needing to be safe is an additional burden. Lots of sympathy – and a prayer for David from me too

  3. These things are never easy, I have had some horrific experiences with chancers and some incredible experiences with genuine people who were in a moment of need. I will never forget another David who came to my door – when I lived by the church – asking for money for a job interview in Dundee. I never give out money but I arranged for him to pick up a train ticket at the station. Two months later I got a letter with a cheque for double the amount saying he got the job but wouldn’t have without me buying him the ticket. The only reason I had the money to do things like that then was that I told the congregation it was part of their responsibility and twice a year we had a special retiring collection to give me a fund to buy train tickets, food or even socks. Actually I remember buying shoes for an infamous down and out, who came by every fortnight or so for food. He didn’t want new ones as they would just be pinched by someone so for the next week I trawled the charity shops until I found a pair. The sad thing is there are never enough room in emergency shelters and the food bank is always closed when someone comes to the door often all we can do is pray, but that doesn’t mean that isn’t the best thing to do.
    On a more practical level why don’t you phone the embassy and see what they say, so should he ever come back you might have something to tell him. I also refer people to the Citizens Advice telling them that they are more likely to be able to sort out their problems than I am as they have people who really know how the system works and who is the best person to help them long term.
    Blessings on David, wherever he is, and blessings on you for caring so much. You are both in my prayers.

    • I should have said that the stories like your David’s are the most common, but for me I hold on to the good stories otherwise I would despair at my inability to help whenever someone approached me in need, and yes I do get them in Bearsden too.

  4. Thank you for this, Ruth. Even in a city where there are places where I can send people, I find they often don’t want to go. It’s so complex. If they’re recovering alcoholics, they don’t want to be around alcohol. If they owe drug money to someone, they don’t want to run into that person or their pals around the hostels. The stories of fear and violence and desperation are heartbreaking.
    I find this is one of the parts of ministry I struggle most with. To what extent do I put myself at risk to help someone? (I would have done exactly as you did, by the way.) The church is open all the time — which is wonderful, and I would hate to see it closed — but I feel vulnerable locking up on my own in the dark because I never quite know who is going to be sheltering/hiding there. I have had moments where I’ve been terrified. And other times when I’ve been reduced to tears by an unexpected act of kindness and generosity. Once someone who had so little wanted to give what money he had to the church simply because he had had a good sleep there and I let him fill up his water bottle in the kitchen. We are called to a ministry of hospitality and service and compassion, but at what cost to ourselves and our personal safety? It is so difficult.
    This comment doesn’t help answer any of your questions. But I really just wanted to say that you’re not alone in feeling the way you do.

  5. Thanks Kate.

    I remember once standing at a bus-stop in Princes St where a drunk was hassling the Ladies-who-lunch in the queue – quite violently. They were terrified and had bunched up together, with pursed lips and saying nothing. He lurched towards me and I spoke to him and he was about to shout at me too when he saw my cross and changed completely. “Holy Mary Mother of God, forgive me for I’m a sinner!” he said. Then proceeded to tell me how good the nuns were to him etc etc and was quite charming (in a slurry kind of way). He began to mouth off at the old dears again and I told him quite firmly to stop it and he did. Nobody was more surprised than me! Sometimes it is being ignored by people that is worse.

  6. These are fabulous stories. The church I go to in Connecticut has a constant collection for sox. They take food and toothbrushes too, but the thing that’s wanted most is sox. The regular announcements for it — by a woman who works with the homeless most days — brings the reality of homelessness right into the midst of the congregation in a way that people can handle and respond to. Maybe there’s a new ministry in ‘prayer sox’ for Falkirk?

  7. Hello, where I go to church there is the “Minister’s Fund” which is about 1-2% of congregational giving so at least you are not spending your own money. Of course that wouldn’t last for ever and doesn’t help your safety issues but you could put it to your congregation.

  8. Actually I have and they decided no money to be given out, just food. Because we are near the Young Offenders Prison if word gets out that we give money it would be non-stop. It has been in the past. Word spreads quickly round the homeless community!

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