How can we call ourselves compassionate citizens or Christians when we walk past the freezing homeless with our Christmas shopping in hand?
At the beginning of this month, a statue was unveiled in Glasgow of a homeless Jesus laying across a city centre bench. This follows several copies of the statue being displayed throughout the world – from Texas to Rome to Chennai in India. Artist Timothy Schmalz was inspired to create the sculpture by a passage from the Gospel of Mark in which Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Around thirty thousand people are homeless in Scotland as we look forward to Christmas and the statue’s £25,000 price tag is leaving some people asking if this a practical use of money that otherwise could have gone to homelessness charities.
The statue was installed by a group of churches, faith groups and charities in order to raise awareness of homelessness in the city. Anyone who, like myself, has walked from Glasgow Central Station to Buchanan Subway Station in the morning while hurrying to get to university will have undoubtedly walked past a group of homeless people who have taken shelter under a row of empty shops. On the night before I wrote this article, the temperature dropped to -6oC. The Christian organisation, City Mission, has opened a winter night shelter for the homeless of Glasgow, which is just one of the many, many projects run by Christian groups throughout Glasgow and Scotland as a whole. Another such organisation is the Wayside Club; a Catholic group that provides food, emergency clothes and sleeping bags, access to showers and a place to pray if a person wants to. This group is open to the homeless every evening throughout the week and on Saturdays.
Of course, there are several charitable groups that do amazing work in the towns and cities of Scotland, but these two groups exemplify what it means to be inspired by faith and their compassion for people less fortunate than themselves. Are these hard working groups going to solve the homelessness crisis in Scotland and beyond? Probably not, but it is not their job to. It should be the job of governments to solve the crisis, and maybe if our politicians were as inspired as these hard working groups then the problem would’ve been solved.
The reasons for homelessness are complex and numerous. But it is a damning indictment of our culture and society in the sixth largest economy in the world that we prefer to spend our money making celebrities richer from eating insects in the Australian outback than helping society’s most vulnerable. While we spend hundreds upon hundreds on Christmas presents, our fellow Scots and Brits are facing sub-zero temperatures as they sleep.
And this is what the statue aims to change. This statue is about a constant, painful reminder. How can we walk past freezing homeless people while Christmas shopping or commuting and call ourselves compassionate citizens or, even for some of us, Christians? It was the leaders of the faith groups and other groups who raised the funds to install this statue. They look at our culture and see the plight of those less fortunate than us and act. They feed the hungry and give shelter to the homeless, and they want us to do that too. If only one in every 82 households in Scotland invited a homeless person to spend Christmas there, there would be no one sleeping rough on our streets this Christmas.
To those who are complaining about these charitable groups spending money on the statue to change our attitudes towards the homeless, I would ask, “what are you doing for the homeless this Christmas?”