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This February it’s the 70th anniversary of Emmaus founder Abbé Pierre’s Uprising of Kindness in which he sparked an outpouring of solidarity, following the deaths of homeless people in Paris.

It starts:

“My friends, your help is needed!
At 3am this morning a woman froze to death on the pavement on Boulevard Sébastopol.
She died clutching the eviction order used to turf her out onto the street the day before yesterday.”

You can read the rest here or listen to the French verison below:

It’s poignant that 70 years on, despite all the improvements to our standards of living, that the loss of a private rental tenancy is the biggest cause of homelessness, and that people are still, and in increasing numbers, dying while homeless.

The work of Emmaus remains as important today as it was then. We need a new Uprising of Kindness.

Emmaus Bristol is one of 30 Emmaus communities in the UK and one of over 400 worldwide. We are all a little bit different, but connected in that we all try to help those most in need.

In Bristol we do this by provide a home and support to people who have been homeless or are at risk of homelessness. So people might come to us from street homelessness but they might also come from accommodation that is just ending – a tenancy that finished, a friend could no longer put them up, from prison, or from Home Office housing.

I wouldn’t call this work kindness though, rather we are responding to a human right – the right to an adequate standard of living. (Article 25: Universal Declaration of Human Rights). We work to provide a home, support, community and work experience, so that people can achieve a decent standard of living while at Emmaus and when they have moved on.

As this OCHR post explains, “Increasingly viewed as a commodity, housing is most importantly a human right”. A Centre for Homelessness Impact evidence note cites studies that show housing stability improves mental health.  We know that quality and secure housing is important for good mental and physical health, whereas “living in poor quality housing is associated with poor general health”.

We need kinder public services and fundamentally we need public services that respect our human rights.

In the absence of affordable, decent housing for everyone who needs it, showing kindness and community to each other, and looking out for those who are at risk of homelessness, or have become homeless, is especially important. I used to hear the expression “homelessness can happen to anyone” a lot, which I suppose was intended to engender empathy for homeless people. Like (a reversal of fortune of) the national lottery tagline – “it could be you!”

Now, there’s greater recognition that statistically, people with particular life experiences and backgrounds, or from particular demographics, are much more likely to become homeless. If there’s a pattern to homelessness, it should be possible to target homelessness prevention more effectively.

We must recognise that being homeless is traumatic in itself, as well as past trauma contributing to homelessness. The kind thing is to prevent homelessness from occurring.

Emmaus Bristol will continue to provide kindness and community to people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, while hoping and campaigning for a kinder society that results in far fewer people becoming homeless.

Be inspired by Abbé Pierre, and I don’t mean you have to open your home to homeless people, work in solidarity with them and found an international movement! (Though if you have a spare room Refugees at Home, Bristol Hospitality Network or SASH might be happy to hear from you).

We can all show kindness and solidarity by recognising that homelessness exists, that it comes in many forms and for many reasons, and to show curiosity rather than judgement (which is the unofficial ethos of our support team).

If the need for tents and essentials in Abbé Pierre’s original radio broadcast moves you, please respond to our call out for donations for Bristol Outreach Services for the Homeless.

Write to your MP, or as it is election year, your local candidates, and ask them what they will do to prevent homelessness. It’s a question you can ask if you are canvassed.

Don’t underestimate the impact your kindness can have. There are lots of examples of strangers being kind (and others sadly of strangers being cruel) in Séamus Fox’s book No Homeless Problem and other Poems.

…she treated me
like a person, she got me
some food and a cup of
tea and gave me a scarf.
I kept the scarf and I
Remember her by it.
People are not all bad.

Blog post written by Jessica Hodge, Chief Executive at Emmaus Bristol

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