Roughing it for the homeless
Tim Perkin is part of Tearfund's Emerging Influencers programme and is running a campaign to tackle homelessness in the UK.
Rough Night? hopes to raise awareness of the endemic problem of rough sleeping, which has been increasing year on year across the nation. Despite Britain being the seventh richest country in the world, homelessness is a very real problem for thousands of people - and something 20-year-old Tim is passionate about transforming.
He is desperate to see the Government make political changes for social justice in the UK, and is challenging people to get behind his campaign to see that become a reality.
Tim talked with Christian Today about Rough Night? and his passion for caring for the most vulnerable in our communities.
CT: Hi Tim, tell us a bit about yourself.
TP: I'm 20 and currently in my first year of studying Anthropology at Sussex University. I'm originally from Gloucester, where my dad's a vicar, but I'm now part of St Peter's Church in Brighton.
CT: So how did you come to be interested in the issue of homelessness?
TP: At St Peter's I've been involved in street community work on Wednesday afternoons and Saturday evenings, and I help to run the night shelter. We have 15 rough sleepers come and stay with us on Saturday nights during the winter months and from that I've seen just how many people are homeless, and realised that we need to do something about it.
CT: Can you give an idea of the scale of the problem?
TP: It's hard to say exactly, because the official figures are often so wrong. Councils take visual estimates by walking through the streets and counting the number of rough sleepers that they see, but there are loads more people hidden away that also need help.
We do know that there has been a three year increase in homelessness. In 2008, the Labour government pledged to eradicate rough sleeping by 2012, which obviously hasn't happened, so we've been failed on that promise. Since 2010, over 130 homeless shelters and projects have had to shut down due to budget cuts, which equates to over 4,000 beds being lost.
Being on the streets also often leads to drug and alcohol abuse, prostitution and violence, which is obviously a huge concern.
CT: How did you get involved with Tearfund then?
TP: I spent six months in Malawi during my gap year, and through that I was asked to join the Emerging Influencers programme. Fourteen of us are taking part, and we're each running a project or campaign to tackle a particular issue, or to raise awareness of some kind of injustice going on in the world.
Emerging Influencers is about Tearfund investing in young people to partner together in a way that will hopefully inspire others to get involved in campaigning for social justice. We have two weekends away, where we get training and listen to talks on issues such as poverty and injustice, and they help us with our individual projects year round.
CT: What were your first steps when you decided you wanted to tackle homelessness?
TP: I was already connected with Tearfund, so I sat down with a friend called Dot and we worked out a strategy together. There are three parts to the campaign. The first is a petition, which is very general and essentially says, there's an issue here and we want it to stop. The hope is to take that petition to MPs and challenge them to use their power to make a change. We don't personally have that kind of political power, but we do have the passion. I'm planning to meet my MP at the end of this month and hopefully even the Minister for Housing.
The second part is coming up between 24 and 28 March, where we're encouraging people to sleep on their floors for five days to get an idea of what it's like to have an uncomfortable night. Obviously it's nowhere near as awful as what a homeless person actually goes through, but it's an act of solidarity and we're asking people to use it as a fundraiser for Tearfund, which works in many different countries all over the world, dealing with issues of injustice such as this.
The third and final part of the Rough Night? campaign is focussed on encouraging young people to volunteer at their local homeless shelter or projects. We want people to offer their time to help those less fortunate and make a difference in their communities.
CT: Why is it important that people get behind the campaign?
TP: Because we have a voice, and we need to stand up for the oppressed and make a noise about the issue. Proverbs 31 tells us to "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute."
People often make excuses, saying that homeless people get themselves into that situation through drugs or being abusive, but that's not always the case, and we believe as Christians that it doesn't matter what people have done, we are called to help everyone.
To sign the Rough Night? petition or to get involved in the campaign, go to rhythms.org/roughnight