Where shall I lay my head?


In recent days the home secretary of the UK, Suella Braverman, has described rough sleeping as a “lifestyle choice” while defending her decision to restrict the use of tents by homeless people on the streets of Britain.

More than that, it is rumored that charitable organisations that supply tents to the homeless might themselves be prosecuted for their generosity.

What have we come to? Is this the latest phase in the “don’t drop litter campaign”?

Some ten years ago the Canadian sculptor, Timothy Schalz, gave us “Homeless Jesus” .

It depicted a huddled Christ lying on a park bench wrapped in a cloak identified only by his exposed feet bearing the marks of crucifixion – stark and chilling image of those whom society chooses to ignore until they become inconvenient.

By 2016, over 100 casts had been placed in various public places worldwide. And the list continues. Each day people walk by, some sit near the exposed feet, bowing their heads in prayer.

The destitution of Jesus is no more apparent than in Matthew’s Gospel where he writes: “And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head’.”

Poverty, unemployment, natural disasters and wars

Homelessness has numerous causes, many of them arising from the careless and selfish attitudes of our society.

One cause is poverty and the lack of a regular income to cover one’s rent or mortgage. Some who are employed earn a wage or salary that is insufficient to meet their needs.

Too often, we are critical of outcome and ignore the root of the evident problem. As long as all is tidy and presentable, we ask no further questions.

So, we end up with a divided society, with those who have enough overtly critical of those with insufficient means to meet their basic needs.

Natural disaster, earthquake and flood can take away homes leaving whole communities without shelter and the means to feed themselves.

For a few days they are headline news, that is until something else happens and the story fades. But the problem of their survival remains.

Another cause of poverty is war between nations.

You have only to look at the graphic images of the destruction wrought on Gaza City to realize the huge material cost of repairing or replacing homes and businesses when all this over. Meanwhile, families must live amongst the rubble, the debris that once they called home.

Home is more than a collection of rooms

One of the most memorable tracks on Paul Simon’s 1986 album Gracelands is the song “Homeless”, which and Black Mambazo sing in English and Zulu.

The haunting melody echoes the tragedy of the loss of home and the loneliness of night after a storm

Homeless, homeless
Moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake
Homeless, homeless
Moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake
We are homeless, we are homeless
The moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake
And we are homeless, homeless, homeless
The moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake…..

……Strong wind destroy our home
Many dead, tonight it could be you
Strong wind, strong wind
Many dead, tonight it could be you.

But home is more than a collection of rooms. It is a place of family identity where meals are shared and stories told. It is a place of security for children, where the care of parents can be relied on.

That is what makes the loss of a home so poignant and the consequences so hard to bear.

If the Home Secretary thinks that is a lifestyle choice, so be it. I beg to differ from her point of view.

  • Chris McDonnell is a retired headteacher from England and a regular contributor to La Croix International.
  • First published in La Croix. Republished with permission.
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