The House that shames us

Published on: 1 September 2019

After a helter-skelter, what might you next find in Norwich Cathedral? Andy Bryant tells us: the answer is a house. At first glance it might be tempting to assume that this is a rather happy dwelling, a house wrapped in multi-coloured scarves. But behind the seemingly cosy image is another story. This is a house that should shame us.

To coincide with World Homelessness Day on 10 October, St Martins, in partnership with Norwich Cathedral, will be building a house of scarves – 4,677 scarves to be precise, one scarf for each person who slept rough in England last year. Each scarf will be different in colour and texture but among the bright colours, if you look carefully you will find 600 black scarves, one for each person who died sleeping rough in England in 2018.

Rough sleeping is, of course, only the visible tip of the iceberg of homelessness. Out of immediate sight are those trapped in bed and breakfast accommodation or sofa surfing. And when these options run out then the only option is to sleep on the streets.

Although we talk of “the homeless”, the reality is rather a myriad of different stories, of particular individual circumstances, many of which could happen to any of us, which leads to people sleeping on the streets.

People who are homeless should be accepted as individuals and not prejudged by their situation or challenges. Each ‘brick’ of the knitted house is unique and represents a person. Often homeless people experience a loss of identity, so the diversity of the scarves reminds us of the distinctive and individual nature of each individual and their story.

New people are arriving on the streets all the time, usually local people. Thankfully rough sleeping is reducing in Norwich, due to the work of the Pathways team, which is a consortium of organisations who work together to reduce rough sleeping in the city. Official figures for the last three years are: 2016: 34, 2017: 30, 2018: 22.

Charities such as St Martins do a lot of prevention work, often in the community and supporting people with poor mental health. St Martins runs groups and activities for people who have enduring mental illness – and it’s frequently the creative activities, such as knitting, that help people feel better, more confident and connected to others.

Nevertheless, living as we do in one of the richest countries in the world, it should shock and shame us that, according to the housing charity Shelter, 320,000 were recorded as homeless in 2018. It is hoped the presence of this knitted house in the Cathedral will challenge all who see it to ask how we can overcome the inequalities that beset our society.

Our Christian calling is not just to grow the church but also to grow the kingdom, to ensure that the kingdom values of justice and mercy lie at the heart of the world about us and that together we create communities where all know they are loved, valued and cherished.

The Knitted House will be on public display 7 – 28 October 2019 at Norwich Cathedral.

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“When he saw the man, he felt compassion for him…”

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