Record numbers attend Commemoration Service for those who died homeless in past year

  • Jo Siedlecka

A record number of people gathered in St Martin in the Fields for the Service of Commemoration for those who died homeless in London over the past year. The music group of Alastair Murray, John Deacon and Chris Bluemel played through the service.

After an introduction by Revd Richard Carter, priest at St Martin's, the first set of names was read out, with reflections on some of them. John Glackin spoke about Mark Borret (Sparky) who had gone through many difficult experience before he came to live at the hostel. There he did well, always helped other and managed to earn a university degree.

The second group of names was read by Kaz Meyes from the Connection - then Rosie Allen-Jones recalled Biffel, who helped run the garden and one year took part in a fundraising walk to Canterbury. Ruth from the Passage remembered Anthony, who had many complex problems but had begun to settle, make friends and enjoy life. He'd manage to reconnect with his older brother.

Finally Jenna Roberts from Housing Justice spoke about Adam, a gentle giant who struggled with alcohol addiction. He had helped many friends, who were shocked when he was found dead in Trafalgar Square.

The centrepiece of the service was a cross, and the face of Christ, like an icon of homelessness, cocooned in a sleeping bag - Christ who knew what it was like to have no place to lay his head. In a symbolic action, the congregation slowly processed to the cross and each person took a card with the name of one of the people who died - to pray for them and remember them throughout the year.

Revd Lucy Winkett rector of St James Piccadilly then reflected upon the way each one of us is known and loved by God.

The event featured powerful performances from The Choir With No Name, who sang 'This Is Me' from the West End production The Greatest Showman, and Streetwise Opera who performed a piece created by the performers called 'The Journey', inspired by the Philip Glass opera Orphee. After the service everyone was invited for light refreshments in the Connection's basement kitchen near the church.

Homelessness in the UK has risen dramatically in recent years. For every 10 people recorded rough sleeping in 2010, there are now 27. Recent street counts suggest that on any one night there are almost 5,000 people sleeping rough in England. The charity Crisis estimates that the true number is far higher - closer to 8,000.

The number of people sleeping rough in London has surged to a record high with 3,985 counted across the capital from July to September 2019, a rise of 28% on last year.

In London an average of 22 people are becoming homeless each day. And these are just the recorded numbers, the real numbers are much higher.

Shelter report that more than 170,000 people in the capital have no home and are either homeless or very vulnerably housed in hostel and temporary accommodation. 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.

The average life expectancy of a rough sleeper in the UK is now just 44 years old for men and 42 for women - over 30 years less than the general population.

Chief Executive of Housing Justice, Kathy Mohan said: "It is a real privilege to be involved in the annual service of commemoration, which Housing Justice have contributed to for many years now. This is such a poignant service, both as a memorial to those who have passed, but also as a reaffirming of the determination of those working with people experiencing homelessness that no person should die without a home in 21st century Britain."

Rev Carter wrote: "St-Martin-in-the-Fields is well placed to host this service. Westminster, where the church is based, has the highest concentration of rough sleepers in England and Wales. The church has been supporting people who are homeless and vulnerable for over 100 years, starting when the Revd Dick Sheppard opened the church's crypt space to soldiers travelling to the WW1 trenches from Charing Cross station. The churches' work with homeless people eventually led to the setting up of the dedicated charity The Connection at St-Martin-in-the-Fields, which today helps thousands of people every year to move away from the streets of London."

Pam Orchard, Chief Executive of The Connection said: "It's incredibly important that we take time to remember and honour those who have died on the streets and this service provides the opportunity to do that. It is appalling that homeless people die in today's Britain. Having a safe and secure home is a basic human need, and yet is something that far too many people are going without.

The service acts as a reminder of the scale of the work that must still be done to ensure that all homeless people are supported on their journey towards recovery. However, it is also hugely uplifting, as it brings together who have been homeless, are still homeless, or support homeless people in a celebration of life, and reminds us what we are capable of achieving if we all work together."

Watch a short clip from the service here:

Tags: Homeless, St Martin in the Fields, Streetwise Opera, Choir with No Name, Housing Justice

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