Food or tampons? The impossible decisions homeless women are making every day

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As a woman, I can honestly say that not many women jump for joy when it’s that time of the month. And when it’s that time of the month for a woman who is homeless, the depth of dread sinks deeper than I or any of us could imagine.
According to Shelter Scotland, roughly 21% of the 34,972 people who registered as homeless in the 2017-2018 year were single women; 17% were single mothers (Shelter Scotland, 2017). While these women not only worry about sleeping rough, finding food and searching for eventual stability, they also must navigate the inevitabilities of being female, many without adequate funds or resources.

Just the other day, I walked into Asda looking to restock my supply of pads and tampons. I was shocked to see how expensive a single box of tampons was, but I needed them and after throwing them into my cart, I didn’t ponder on it much longer. Yet, there are women in this very city who cannot afford to buy the sanitary towels or toiletries they need. What would you choose if you were homeless: food or tampons?

The larger part of history, society – even charities – has rarely talked about homelessness and periods. I didn’t even consider it as something homeless women faced until I discovered #TheHomelessPeriod. Founded by three women who were interning together at a London advertising agency, the movement quickly took off.
Working to gain awareness about the issue, The Homeless Period has paired with various charities, beauty companies and every day women in donating hundreds of thousands of “Period Packs” for women who are homeless across the UK (TheHomlessPeriod.com).

#TheHomelessPeriod, however, were not the only ones to notice the difficulties homeless women were facing. Thanks to a 2015 Huffington Post article discussing homeless women and periods in the UK, Stephanie Arnold and Sharron Champion from South Carolina, United States decided that enough was enough and were inspired to start their own charity.

Arnold and Champion’s charity, The Homeless Period Project, also has worked to create and distribute “Period Packs” to women who cannot or struggle to afford necessities for their periods. Volunteers, community members and women who experienced homelessness in their past help Arnold and Champion to not only provide women and young girls with sanitary products, but also end the stigma surrounding menstruation.
Arnold and Champion are heavily involved in their work, hosting “Period Pack” sessions with volunteers, delivering hundreds of pads and tampons to schools in surrounding districts, and running the overall operations of the charity. In an interview for a Restoring Dignity documentary, Champion states that “moms will go without [sanitary napkins], but the thought that you’re so much in poverty… that you can’t afford the products for your child and how hurtful that must be for the mothers.”

The work all of these women have done brings me back to Scotland and the 21% and 17% of women who have to sleep rough and endure the pains and stains of Mother Nature’s monthly ‘gift’. Working at Bethany, I’ve discovered the countless employees, volunteers and service users who are strongly committed to not only eliminating homelessness across Scotland, but also preserving and upholding the dignity and respect of all who seek our help.

So, with that in mind, how can we – how can I – help the women sleeping rough across Scotland even more than we have already? How do we empower women experiencing homelessness and help restore their dignity?

As I’ve said before in previous blog posts, I strongly believe in the power of small actions. A few ways to help out could involve simply talking with a woman you see, listening to her story and asking her if she needs anything (you, of course, should not flat out ask “do you need a tampon?” but engage in civil conversation).

Simply donating online to charities of your choosing is another great way of supporting women. #TheHomelessPeriod encourages donors to set up Crowdfunds and projects, using their social media presence to promote these initiatives to the wider community. You can even gather your own “Period Packs” and donate them to local shelters for female residents.

My favourite way of helping women who are homeless is through hosting my own Bethany Afternoon Tea. Gather all your strong, empowering gal-pals and raise some money – and tampons – for women in need.

There are countless ways to help those sleeping rough across Scotland one sanitary product at a time.

 

Haley Allaben

Communications Intern

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Give kindness every day, not just one day

Last week on 17 February was National Random Acts of Kindness Day which encourages folk to promote good deeds or pledge acts of kindness, often to strangers, in the hopes of making the world a better place. Ruth Longmuir, Care Shelter Manager, reflects on why we should give kindness every day, and not just one day.

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On 17 February the US celebrated National Random Acts of Kindness day, a time to surprise others by showing them unexpected kindness. This might include paying for the bus ticket of the person behind you in the queue, buying flowers for your elderly neighbour, backing a cake for a friend, giving money to someone who is begging or stopping to help someone change a flat tyre. The other day I was walking back to the office when I came to cross the road. A man with a bike was waiting there and as I approached he gave me a big smile and wished me a happy Valentine’s Day, before immediately crossing the road. I couldn’t help but smile, his act of kindness made me feel good. Random acts of kindness are great but do we really need a day to remind us to be kind to one another?

 

The Bible tells us that kindness is one of the fruits of the Spirit. Along with love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, kindness is a characteristic seen in us when we have the Holy Spirit shaping us to be more like Jesus. There are numerous examples of Jesus showing kindness to people during his time on Earth. Just think of all the people he healed and all the time he spent with people rejected by society or considered unclean. In Ephesians 4:32 we are told to, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” This is not merely a suggestion for one day a year but something that should permeate all of our actions because of the incredible kindness God has shown us.

 

At the Care Shelter I see acts of kindness all of the time; as a staff team we aim to treat guests well and go the extra mile for everyone who comes through the door. What amazes me is the kindness guests show to each other. People are often in the worst place in their lives when they find themselves at the Care Shelter – everything has fallen apart and they are homeless, without anyone who cares about them. You’d understand if they were focussing on themselves but instead they are letting more needy people go ahead of them in the dinner queue, sharing a box of chocolates with the staff team or giving away their bed to someone who needs it more when the shelter is at capacity. Recently one man took another under his wing and spent time with him during the day, helping him to visit the GP and present to the council to get accommodation so that he no longer needs to stay at the Care Shelter.

 

Being kind to others involves us being generous and giving something of ourselves – our time, effort, or perhaps money. It is easy to think that the recipient must therefore be deserving of our kindness but God calls us to be kind to everyone. If we are motivated to act in true kindness, we don’t expect anything in return. The man with the bike didn’t wait around to see if I was going to wish him a happy Valentine’s Day back, he just wanted to do something nice to make a stranger feel good.

 

Instead of showing kindness once a year on a particular day, why not aim to show kindness every single day?

 

Ruth Longmuir

Care Shelter Manager

 

How your leftovers could make a difference

In one of my favourite movies The Good Lie, there is a particular scene that always strikes me. With the help of a social worker played by Reese Witherspoon, three Sudanese refugees arrive in the United States and are quickly tasked to find employment. Working at a grocery store, one of the refugees is directed by his boss to dispose of unwanted, yet still fresh food. Despite his retaliation against throwing away good food, the man complies with his boss’ order. As he throws away the food, a homeless woman nervously approaches him. Rather than brush her away, he smiles, quickly throws food into her bag, and goes back to work.

Far too often, I have taken for granted the value and importance of food. Especially in the United States where I’m from, we’ve become extremely wasteful when it comes to food production and consumption. According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), in 2010 alone, the United States wasted roughly 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food. Such high levels of waste ultimately prompted the USDA to establish its first ever national food loss and waste reduction plan in 2013 (USDA, 2013). In spite of waste reduction efforts, society has continued to foster a culture of eating with our eyes and letting the rest go to waste, not thinking of those who are struggling to find their next meal.

Like most people, sometimes I get nervous when I notice a homeless person along the sidewalk. I try to think of things to do to help, but more often than not, I follow the crowd and walk on by. It’s not that I don’t want to help, but rather that I’m unsure how to help.

Recently, I was walking home from a wonderful dinner with new friends I had just met through my study abroad program here in Edinburgh when I saw a woman who appeared to be homeless sitting along the side of the pavement. She was wrapped in layers of blankets asking passers-by if they had any change to spare. I watched as a couple in front of me and my friends passed by her without acknowledging her presence and I quickly thought, “Alright, what can I do?”

Rather than my leftover food – which was quite a substantial quantity as I hadn’t been hungry – presumably be carted away to the waste bins behind the restaurant, I had asked for a box to go. And I’m thankful I did. Seeing no grocery store nearby, I approached the woman sitting on the sidewalk, apologised for not having cash on hand, and offered her my pasta instead. She gladly accepted.

Often, when we think of helping people who are homeless, we immediately think we must make a grand gesture, and while those gestures are not bad in the slightest, little actions can equally make a big difference to a homeless person’s day. Simple acts, like offering to buy someone their preferred meal or snack from the shop down the road, perhaps sharing that granola bar packed in your bag, or giving someone your substantial leftovers rather than let the restaurant throw them out, can make a world of difference for someone without the means to purchase a meal.

The next time you’re dining at a restaurant, think twice about those leftovers because they may just make someone’s day.

 

Haley Allaben

Communications Intern

Who you say I am

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The theme for Prisoners’ Week this year is, ‘Who do you say I am?”, looking at whether what others say about us matters more than it should and how the labels, tags and names we use for ourselves and others reflect our own and their prejudices.

The theme is inspired by a passage in the Gospel when Jesus asks his disciples who people are saying He is.  Answers of ‘John the Baptist’ the ‘prophet Elijah’ come back to Jesus from the disciples. Then Jesus asks: “Who do you say I am?” Jesus isn’t interested in what the others are saying about Him. He is, however, interested in what the disciples  say about Him.  And it’s Simon Peter, who hits the nail on the head: “You are the Messiah. The Son of God”. Peter’s response is as personal as Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?”

Just as Jesus is more interested in what we personally believe about Him, rather than what the others say, He is more concerned about who He says that we are, than what we say about ourselves or others say about us. God says each of us is ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’. Jesus calls his disciples ‘children of God’ and ‘my friends’. These words from the New Testament really speak to me, both personally, and as someone working with those who have been in prison.

“So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are His child, God has made you also an heir.” – Galatians 4:7 

Others can view us as slaves, captives or indeed prisoners, but the truth is; we are God’s precious children and therefore co-heirs with Christ, regardless of how the world views us or we see ourselves.

When I was a wee girl, my Dad had a book called “How to Build with Bananas.” As an intrigued 8 year old, I remember asking him what was it all about as it sounded distinctly silly to me.  The gist of it was that God’s people come in all shapes and sizes, a bit like bananas, and yet somehow God can use all these people to build His church and work to restore His Kingdom. I’m sure 8 year old me thought that this was still all a bit silly but the older I’ve gotten the more I’ve realised the truth of this analogy. We might not call each other ‘bananas’ but we can certainly look around our churches and ‘label’ one another: there’s the ‘musicians’; the ‘prayer warriors’; the ‘fixers’; the ‘traditionalists’; the ‘radicals’; those with a ‘chequered past’ – the list is endless. Yet God calls us each ‘my child’ and uses all of us to further His kingdom.

In our Connect to Community training we use the book of Philemon to illustrate God’s call for us to work in prison ministry.  Onesimus was a slave, known to Philemon, who had been imprisoned with Paul.  In verse 11, Paul refers to Onesimus: “Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become both useful to you and to me.”  Paul is sending Onesimus back to the community that he has wronged, telling them that he is “no longer a[..] slave , but better than a slave, as a dear brother.” (Verse 16)

God still takes prisoners and makes them useful.

During Prisoners Week – please pray for your ‘brothers and sisters in Christ’ who are in prison and those who have been in prison who walk among us. Pray that you see them as God sees them and not how the world labels them.

 

Mhairi Phillipson

Connect to Community Referrals and Communication Worker

The gift of being known

Recently, it was reported that 440 homeless people died on the streets in the UK over the last 12 months. The report expressed the horror that such a thing still blights our modern society.  However, what horrified me more, was a haunting sense that each individual had become a combined statistic rendering each one anonymous – unknown – even to the point of death.

I recently was at a funeral of an older lady, Nancy, who belonged to my church. I knew her for many years and she was always an amazing encourager. I visited her regularly when I was a young Christian and she would share her wisdom and insight in order to challenge and enhance my growth. She had a unique ‘way about her’ that was inspiring, humorous and yet slightly commandeering all at the same time. However, at her funeral, I realised there was so much more about Nancy and her life!

Then it dawned on me – there is so much we have yet to know about one another regardless of the amount of time that’s been shared. Yet it’s only because we have invested in each other’s lives that we get to hear some of our treasured stories.

Sadly, this isn’t the case for many on the streets. For many who are homeless, we know nothing except that they might have an addiction, suffer from poor mental health, or they have spent their days and nights as wanderers in our cities and communities.

Peruvian theologian and philosopher, Gustav Gutierrez, says: “So you say you love the poor? Name them.”

Gutierrez challenges us all by arguing that loving is incomplete without knowing. He creates an up close and personal visualisation of how humanity surely must be in relationship.

John Piper writes: “Deeper than knowing God is being known by God. What defines us as Christians is not most profoundly that we have come to know Him but that He took note of us and made us His own.” To be known and still loved is the most powerful thing any human can experience. Despite our idiosyncrasies, faults and sometimes destructive actions; we are still known and therefore loved.

I hope that the 440 people who died last year on the streets encountered being known by another. I am thankful for every cup of kindness offered on the streets in our cities that is accompanied by a conversation and an exchange of knowing; and for every open door and a safe bed that is attached to a community of people who prize knowing just as much as providing practical shelter.

 

Shirley Berry, Group Head for Fundraising and Development

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3 tips to reaching out to people who are homeless

“Excuse me, miss, do you have any spare change?”

The other day, I was asked for some money by a man sitting outside the local supermarket. He was wrapped up in a blanket, with his hoodie over his head and a torn paper cup in his hand.

“Really sorry, I don’t have any on me,” I replied. “But can I buy something for you? What do you need?”

I squatted down beside him and looked him in the eyes, and I could tell it made him a bit nervous.

He appeared timid but I could tell was also eager to have a chat.

“My name is Rachel,” I said reaching out my hand. “What’s yours?”

***

As someone who works for a homelessness charity, I frequently get asked what one should do if approached by a homeless person on the streets.

What do I do if a homeless person asks me for money? Do I give them money? Should I just avoid them?

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, homelessness is a crisis. The reasons are many and complex – family breakdown, community upheaval, poor mental health, or individual struggles with addiction. But whatever the reasons, no one should have to sleep rough on the streets – especially in the dead of winter – or be in search of a place to stay because they were kicked out of their home by a family member.

Because local governments are often unable to help the hundreds of people in need, I strongly believe that this is where we, the third sector and the Church, come in.

In Matthew 25:40, Jesus urges us to care for those living in poverty as an act of obedience to God: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

While I do not have all the answers to this complex problem, I do have a few thoughts that I hope you find helpful the next time you encounter someone on the streets.

 

1. Be compassionate

Embody compassion. Freely give to people you come across, especially those who find themselves on the margins of society.

While we should not lightly cross personal boundaries or put ourselves at risk, we certainly don’t need to be a social worker to show compassion. Showing compassion can be anything from saying hello to someone on the street, to offering to buy them a hot drink on a cold night.

As Christians, kindness should come naturally to us. And when it does not, we need to ask God to show us how He sees and loves the people around us. Pray for our hearts to be broken by the things that break His heart.

 

2. Help out when you can and where you can

After all, you and I are mere individuals. We cannot possibly help everyone we come across who begs for money on the street.

However, if we want to help people living in poverty and experiencing episodes of homelessness, we can always start small and see where it takes us. After all, no act of kindness, no matter how small, is insignificant.

Instead of giving money to someone on the streets, I will often buy them a sandwich or a hot coffee. And sometimes, it is enough just to have a conversation with that person.

If you’re just starting out on this journey, something as simple as smiling and saying “Hello” is a positive step. Ultimately, we want to show dignity and respect to people who have been robbed of such.

Jesus Himself treated social outcasts and sinners with dignity and compassion. He even shared a meal with prostitutes! Maybe there’s something we could learn from His interactions with the poor and downtrodden.

 

3. Get on board

There are many charities that support homeless people in local communities. These charities offer a variety of services and projects, such as overnight shelters, addiction recovery programs, or community development.

Supporting a charity, like Bethany Christian Trust, is a great way of partnering with others to tackle the issue of homelessness. We can do so by giving to charities, donating food and clothing at local food banks, or participating in an outreach program through church.

 

It’s easy to think “I’m just one person. How can I possibly make a difference?”

While we may not be able to perform the miracles Jesus did—raising the dead, restoring sight, casting out demons—we can extend the same life-changing dignity that He offered during His time on earth. Jesus treated each and every person He came across with dignity, knowing that they are made in God’s own image. We can do so as well.

Brothers and sisters, if there is one thing to remember when encountering the homeless, it’s this: treat everyone you meet as Jesus did—men and women, homeless and homeowners, rich and poor.

Let’s go back to the story I started this article with. After I introduced myself, the man told me that his name was David. I sat down beside him on the busy city street, watching people make their way home in the post-work commute.

“People can be really kind,” he said. As he munched on his sandwich, David told me all about how several local people had taken an interest in him and would buy him meals on occasion. A couple of women even told him about Jesus and His love for him.

“They told me that even though I’m homeless that God loves me and I’m still valuable to Him.”

As I listened to David share his story, it struck me that one simple thing we can do to love people well and to treat them with dignity is to listen. Let us learn how to listen purely so that others have the privilege to share their story.

Next time you pass by someone on the streets, give them just a few minutes of your time. Even the simplest of acts like having a conversation with someone who is homeless isn’t just saying “I hear you”; it’s demonstrating “I see you because He loves you.”

Be a representative of His incomprehensible peace, undeserving grace and overwhelming love.

 

Rachel Moreland, Marketing and Media Team Lead

Christian, you don’t need professional training to love the poor

On my walk home from work, I saw him pacing to and fro, muttering to himself. He was a picture of anxiety, marching back and forth in front of the doors of a closed church. He appeared to be homeless, lonely, and troubled, but in a hurry to get home and unsure how safe it would be to approach him, I averted my eyes and quickly walked past.

Until that gentle reminder from God. You have my peace to offer him. Will you walk by?

I sheepishly turned back, awkwardly approached the man, and asked if I could pray for him. He told me about coming to the UK from Jamaica, about his love of music, how he speaks out loud to himself because he has no one else to talk to. “But it makes people nervous, so maybe I should stop,” he half told, half asked me. Eventually I prayed with him. Something simple and ineloquent – that he would know God’s love and his peace.

“This is a good thing you did for me,” he said at the end of our conversation. “I feel relaxed, y’know? Calm.” Before I left to continue my walk back home, he asked me, “You a social worker or something?”

And the question highlighted something sad and strange about our society. Has stopping for a short conversation with someone who seems vulnerable and alone become a specialist skill?

I’m not trained in social work or social care. I’m simply and wondrously a child of God. A God who loves the poor, who welcomes the lonely into families, who provides, protects, and offers peace in abundance to all who ask. I don’t need a qualification or degree to love the poor because my Father teaches me how to every day. The same is true of you.

Alan and Anne Berry, founders of Bethany Christian Trust, had no qualifications either when they started our organisation. Remembering the early days, they said, “It proved hard at the beginning because you had no credibility, no money, and people saw us as ‘two good-doers’. It was quite hard because a lot of people were questioning our motives, but ultimately all we wanted to do was to help people.”

We follow Jesus, who we see time and again reaching out to the poor and outcast – prostitutes, paralytics, the blind, lepers, adulterers, women, and children.

In John 5:19, Jesus explains, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.” Through the lens of Jesus, we see plainly that God is reaching out to the poor with his love, his goodness, his healing, his peace and that when we do likewise, we aren’t doing it alone.

When you’re wondering whether to stop and chat to someone who seems lonely or distressed, whether to volunteer at our Winter Care Shelter, or to give generously of your time or money, don’t disqualify yourself due to inexperience.

Let’s join our heavenly Father in his mission to love those the world has forgotten.

 

Jennifer Rawson, Trusts and Grants Fundraiser