The Rt Rev Dr David Walker was a recent contributor on Thought for the Day, a daily slot on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 offering “reflections from a faith perspective on issues and people in the news” broadcast at around 7:45 each Monday to Saturday morning. This contribution concerns homelessness, mental health, making connections and working together with homeless people to find solutions.
“I first met Jonny in 2013. All day, most days, he sat by the entrance to the car park I use. A paper cup stood in front of him, ready to receive any coins passers-by wished to donate. I struggled to know how to respond. If I acknowledged his presence, would I feel obliged to drop some money into his cup, even though most charities say that’s a bad idea? So I went back to something close to the core of my faith, the story of a young man named Francis from Assisi who met a leper one day. Francis was fearful, even disgusted, but knew that he had to greet and serve the man as he would Jesus Christ himself. He approached the leper, embraced him, and it changed Francis’s life. I took courage, struck up a conversation with Jonny, as I’ve chosen to call him. And my life was changed too.
Over the next couple of years, we became friends. We talked about our shared love for detective fiction, discussed the life of our city and chatted, as the British invariably do, about the weather. Somewhere along the line, a local GP practice found him a Community Psychiatric Nurse. Jonny became adamant that his homelessness and his mental health issues needed to be resolved in tandem. Abandoning him with a set of keys to a flat would not be enough. But then one day he just wasn’t around anymore.
I said that my life changed too. I now chair the Manchester Homelessness Partnership. I spoke recently at the launch of Cause and Consequence, a report into the two way link between Mental Health and Homelessness in Manchester. What’s different about this report is that it’s been written by a group who really know what mental illness on the streets is like, because many of them have been there. We call that co-production. It’s a rule we stick to in all our Manchester work on homelessness. It also explains why it’s probably the most practical report I’ve ever read.
Last week, this programme led with the news that a hundred million pounds will be set aside to eradicate rough sleeping over the next decade. Around a third of it will be targeted on Mental Health. Money alone isn’t going to solve the problem, but it does add fuel to the engine of co-production. Allowing responses to this problem to be led by the expertise of rough sleepers may be the breakthrough moment.
Earlier this year I met Jonny again. Now living in a Housing scheme where he’s getting support to manage independently. Seeing his smile re-energised my commitment. I want to work for a better future for him, and for all still sleeping on our streets.”
You can listen to the talk here BBC Radio 4, Today Programme, 17th August 2018