(*please skip if you have not been following this story). Each year the national Baptist Assembly (with delegates from churches all over the country) passed public resolutions calling for action on a number of themes. A resolution deploring the growing number of homeless people, especially younger people, on our streets called for local churches to act on their behalf. We knew we had to.
The church set up a Homelessness Task Force which began to focus minds and hearts. In the April Church Meeting in 1990 they reported that in Cambridge an estimated 250 single people were living on the streets, squats or overnight hostels. They mentioned a new organization called Winter Comfort that was working towards providing help during the winter months. Several individuals took up the practical challenge of working with projects such as the Cyrenians and others were concerned about the politics of homelessness and not just the symptoms.
But, the 'symptoms' were unavoidably confronting us as a whole church. Whenever we left worship, we were faced by homeless people requesting food and money and during services needy people were drifting in asking for help. When the weather deteriorated we found people sleeping on our front steps. Of course, with the restaurant area next door we were able to give drinks and shelter on Sundays and a team of volunteers developed skills at befriending those who came to us on Sundays. But what about the much bigger problem of overnight accommodation and in the worst of weather?
I vividly remember the shock when I invited the founder of Winter Comfort to have coffee with me in the Stone Yard Centre. After briefly looking around at this new church venture he stared at me and said: 'But what are you doing for the poor? Can't you use your property to give shelter overnight?' I realized how much easier it was to focus on issues like unemployment and loneliness than on giving over our premises to sleep the homeless. It was a rebuke I have never forgotten.