The Churches in Reading Drop in Centre for the Homeless and the Needy fulfils Christ’s call to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless. The Drop in Centre allows clients to feel welcome, supported and dignified with its ultimate aim of promoting the values of each individual in the eyes of God.

Working as a volunteer at CIRDIC (Churches in Reading Drop In Centre for the homeless and the needy), has been for me one way to respond at a local level and in a very direct way,  to Christ’s call to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless and thus work for social justice in our community. CIRDIC is a local independent charity, set up 20 years ago in response to the concern of local Christian churches to the plight of homeless people on the streets of Reading.

Not that most of the people who come to CIRDIC now are literally without a roof over their heads.  Nor are they, in comparison with the vast majority of our world, starving. At any one time, only a small proportion of our members, are actually sleeping rough on the streets.  St Mungo’s Street Services, who work from our premises, try to act quickly to find accommodation for those who find themselves unexpectedly homeless. There are some East Europeans who are outside the benefit scheme who present particular problems of homelessness. Some people are ‘sofa surfing’.  Some people are living in unsatisfactory accommodation.

However at CIRDIC we recognize that everybody who comes over the doorstep is in need, one way or another.   Probably the vast majority of people who come to CIRDIC are suffering from bereavement of one  kind or another, if not from the loss of a home,  from the from the loss of  a relationship,  a job and very often,  the loss of their children.    Many are long term unemployed for various reasons and many still have little prospect of getting a job, in spite of government initiatives. Many are receiving sickness benefits, often for drug or alcohol abuse problems, including some younger people.  Many have mental health problems, either pre-existing or brought on by their situation. Some are nearing or beyond retiring age. Many are lonely or feel unsupported in the community. We try to make CIRDIC somewhere where all can feel welcome. We would like it to be a place where all felt listened to.

We recognise that our volunteers also have needs. They want to feel that they are putting their faith into action, or, at least ‘helping people’ if they do not count themselves as Christians.

Until recently, CIRDIC has been, primarily, concerned with feeding, clothing and providing washing facilities for the people who came to us. We are open for at least, part of the day seven days a week although our full service when a cooked meal is served is only available on  three weekdays.  In addition outside agencies that can help our members are hosted or signposted at CIRDIC.  Traditionally we have not charged for food or clothing. Lately we have been considering the possibility of introducing a minimum charge for our services. We have been wondering  whether receiving ‘charity’, in the sense of receiving something for nothing, enhances human dignity or does the opposite. Does it encourage abuse?  The connection between ‘charity’ and human dignity is complex. Sometimes if human dignity is not respected, charity (agape) gets lost in the giving of ‘charity’ (as it is now commonly understood i.e. benevolence to the poor).  We need to be sure that ‘agape’ is at work in our organisation.

The poverty of the human spirit that can accompany the kind of life situations described here is as much in evidence among the people we serve at CIRDIC as their poverty of resources. In recent years we have been trying to address the lack of self love, which expresses itself very often in overwhelming depression, or in drug or alcohol abuse. We have been trying to provide various activities to promote the self worth which gives self esteem and self confidence which may have been lost, or indeed, may never have existed.  In some of these activities, there has been quite a focus on aspects of food preparation rather than that of just being fed. We have started cultivating an allotment and we have also had cooking sessions where our members do the cooking instead of just eating what they are given, and cooking members are encouraged to taste what they are preparing.  On one of the other days of the week, more adventurous meals are provided, sometimes following requests from our members. In many ways we are encouraging people to ‘taste and see that the Lord is good’.

I would like to think that we  are starting to encourage people to think of CIRDIC as a spiritual home, a school for love ‘agape’, not as a  place of last resort, a vehicle for ‘charity’. It is somewhere where all of us, of many different Christian denominations and none, have much to learn. In the end, the idea of payment  for services does not sit well here. The values that we are trying to promote are the value of each individual in the eyes of God and their human dignity. We want the people we serve to have experienced the unconditional love of God.  At the same time, we are more and more beginning to see our purpose as enabling  every member of our community to continue on their journey of personal development,  ‘to  have life to the full’  as promised by Jesus in John’s gospel, to enjoy true human dignity.

Clare Palmer

http://www.catholicsocialteaching.org.uk/themes/human-dignity/stories/human-dignity-charity/

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