Are we so used to seeing people rough sleeping that we've lost our empathy? Here London City Mission's Anni Uddin explains why we can't forget those who are experiencing homelessness and what the Church can do to help.


Source: Timur Weber / Pexels

I see so many statistics on the news every day. I’m not sure I ever really take them all in. But a recent one struck me. Despite a record 13,500 people having been helped by rough sleep services since 2016 and major progress being made during the COVID-19 pandemic, these efforts could be reversed unless immediate action is taken.

Current inflation and cost of living pressures mean that households are likely to face further financial challenges as the weather deteriorates. It’s likely that those just scraping by right now will no longer be able to manage. In the midst of these devastating numbers, I think about Steve. He’s an active member of our church family and has a particular passion for cooking. In fact, a few weeks ago he cooked a fantastic meal for my husband and I.

I think of Steve because just a couple of years ago he was one of the many rough sleepers in London. I first met him through my church’s night shelter. He needed practical help with housing, which the shelter was able to support him with. But he also found someone to play table tennis with and someone to listen to him, he was able to experience family and Christian community. The Church is uniquely positioned to provide what local authorities and some charities cannot provide – to invite people to experience true community and a bigger family, and to point to the Father who loves them, who longs for them to join his family.

The Church is uniquely positioned to invite people to experience true community and a bigger family.

The Bible encourages us that God cares and acts on our behalf, and in turn encourages us to act. In Isaiah 58 we read: "And if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul, then your light will go forth in the darkness, and your night will be like noonday."

So how should we walk alongside the men and women affected by rising homelessness? It’s easy to glance over the rising numbers and feel a bit overwhelmed. But you may have neighbours right now for whom the risk of homelessness is a very real possibility this winter. There are complex issues at play and while we need support and action from local and national government, you and I have a responsibility as well. Our practical help can introduce hurting individuals to the hope of Jesus and a larger family of believers.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus shares about a man who was attacked by robbers. Two different religious leaders walked by. They did nothing. They had no excuse. But then a Samaritan is brought onto the scene. Culturally, this man crossed all barriers to meet with the broken man. He was filled with empathy, but he didn’t just stop there. He went to him and took personal action. He bandaged him up and took him to the innkeeper – at his own cost.

It’s so easy to be indifferent to something we see on a daily basis. It’s so easy to walk on by. But should we? Will we act out of empathy or remain indifferent? We may be exhausted, our duties at work might be done and our tanks might be empty, but what can we do to demonstrate love and compassion to those around us who are clearly hurting?

It’s so easy to be indifferent to something we see on a daily basis. It’s so easy to walk on by. But should we?

We might not have lots of time, but what about pausing and praying with someone? What about stopping for a chat, perhaps asking for their name and taking the time to listen to them- respecting their dignity? Opening our hearts to the people who are poor and marginalised in the community needs to be our response. At London City Mission’s Webber Street Day Centre, we are in the privileged position to welcome and support dozens of rough sleepers every day. They hear the Gospel, are fed and offered practical aid from clothing to showers, medical care and more.

But, we all have a responsibility to reach out our hands, like in the story of the Good Samaritan, and extend practical help to those experiencing homelessness. This gives us the opportunity to demonstrate the love of God, treating people with dignity. Let’s not take this responsibility lightly.

Visit if you would like to help support the work that Webber Street is doing is doing this Christmas.