There’s been a lot in the news recently about the installation of ‘homeless spikes’
at various locations outside supermarkets, flats and office buildings. These upwards-pointing studs are designed to make doorways and shelter too uncomfortable for homeless people to sleep on, to move them on to become someone else’s problem. They move the homeless away so as not to offend our eyes with their poverty and hopelessness. Our hearts may be empty but at least our doorways will be too, and with any luck the homeless will learn their lesson and stop being so poor, so unsavoury, and well, so homeless.
Picture: Le Roys/RGB Stock
Well, behind each homeless person seeking shelter in one of those unwelcoming doorways lies a sad story and a human being created in the image of God and loved by Him even though they are rejected by the majority of their fellow people. I’d like to share just one story among the many thousands. We’ll call her Suzy.
I met Suzy 23 years and 10 months ago. I remember the date because it was the first week I took my toddler son to nursery school and I met Suzy there. We started talking about the mundane things mums chat about at the school date, carried on the chat over a cup of coffee at mine and found we had a lot in common.
We were, by some way, the youngest mums at nursery, both had disastrous first marriages and had been left to bring our children up alone. Both Catholics, we struggled with the guilt of this and supported each other. We’d both lost our fathers as young teenagers and lived with the intensity of teenage grief. Maybe once in a lifetime you meet a friend who totally ‘gets’ you, with whom you can share your deepest feelings as well as life’s lighter moments.
When she remarried, I was at Suzy’s wedding. When her daughter was born I left work and drove thirty miles to see them both that day. When they bought their house I helped organise the housewarming party. I babysat for her, got her home safely when she had a little too much to drink, and supported her when she found her birth mother and lived with the disappointment that thirty years on she still wasn’t terribly interested in being a mother. I tracked down her birth father in America and comforted her when she discovered she was his guilty little secret and wanted no contact.
She, in turn, nursed me through a violent relationship, believed in me when I wanted to go to university and was my rock when I suffered from severe post-natal depression. She supported me when I left the Catholic church and became a Baptist, showing her support by attending my baptism. Over the years, we laughed, cried, supported each other through each stage of our lives and our children’s lives.
The best thing about Suzy was that in all those years I never heard her say a bad word about anyone. She always saw the good in people, even when the good was very hard to find. But there was a great sadness in Suzy’s life and that was that as a teenager she had been forced by her family to give a baby up for adoption. We often talked over the years about what her daughter might be up to. We sat together on her 18th birthday, waiting for a phone call that never came, and again on her 21st.
Then last year, the phone call finally came and Suzy’s life began to spiral out of control. She was overjoyed, and the happier she became the more unsettled I started to feel. Her happiness was bordering on mania. She bought three mobile phones to speak to her daughter several times a day. When she wasn’t talking she was texting or messaging on Facebook. It was during this period that she unexpectedly came to my church to give thanks and told me afterwards that she felt Jesus speaking to her for the first time and I felt some hope through my growing unease that something of Suzy was slipping away.
She and her daughter met up – and it was a disaster. The adoption had been unsuccessful and her father had left for another man, her mother suffered from mental illness and she’d had an unhappy life. I don’t know exactly what happened at that meeting except that afterwards there was no more contact and Suzy started to disintegrate mentally.
Within a short time, she was spending more and more time away from home and started hanging out with street drinkers. Her anger overflowed and she was often arrested for being violent and abusive in public. The Suzy I knew was a terrific wife and mother, now she thought nothing of smashing up the family car and breaking windows in their home. She started living on the streets. She had a cut on her arm that wouldn’t heal because of how she was living and needed hospital treatment. Her husband was forced to take out an injunction to keep her away from the family home. Desperate, he and her family paid the deposit on a bedsit for her. She upset the other tenants and was asked to leave. More recently, she spent a few weeks in prison and came out to nowhere to live.
The last time I heard from Suzy she rang me from a pay as you go phone four months ago. Her life was in chaos but she told me she felt she still had Jesus in her life and that she was getting a lot of comfort from that, which comforted me as I could tell the Suzy I knew was only partly there now.
She was seen by a friend this week, holding an old blanket and a pillow, crying and asking people for spare change. I wonder how many people saw ‘homeless’ rather than ‘Suzy’. I’ve been out looking for her; in my imagination we’ll hug, go for lunch and she’ll be the same old kind-hearted, entertaining Suzy. I can tell her that I feel useless but I do pray for her every night. In reality she’s turned against everyone who loves her and I expect it would be the same for me.
So when I see these homeless spikes I think of Suzy and all the people who still love her but can’t reach her. I think of her trying to find somewhere sheltered to sleep and wonder if she still knows that Jesus loves her and is her comforter, or whether she has rejected Him too. The Bible verse that keeps coming to me is ‘whatever you do for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine you do for me’ and I pray that those who do see her begging on the street will find that in their hearts too.