THE WHITECHAPEL MISSION – BRINGING HOPE WHERE THERE IS DESPAIR
Every day, at 6am (just when the commuters of Surrey are starting to make their way from their warm homes to the local station), the staff and volunteers of the Whitechapel Mission in the East End of London begin to welcome up to 300 homeless people. Each person is treated as an individual making choices just like anyone else – what clothes to take off the rack, what toothbrush, razor and shaving soap to choose – and then at 8am it is time for breakfast. Lest they become too dependent, many leave at 11am unless they are taking part in one of the Whitechapel Mission’s wide range of activities, or want to talk to a social worker or counsellor. Every day, all the year round, because one day a person might decide to seek the help which will eventually lift them from a cycle of homelessness and poverty and the Whitechapel Mission needs to be there for them on that day. The next day may be too late.
This was the way in which Tony Miller, Director of the Whitechapel Mission (founded in 1876) described the broad outline of a typical day when he spoke to a capacity audience at the Circuit Mission Supper in Guildford on Saturday 9 March. It is estimated that 1,400 people sleep rough in London every night – many are men but there are also some women, and their particular needs are catered for from 12 noon onwards every Friday. The annual figures speak for themselves – 110,000 cooked breakfasts; 9 staff and 4,000 volunteers, many from the City of London; 450 homeless people use the Mission as their postal address; 25% of those attending the Mission have been living on the streets for more than two years. Much more information, including some individual stories, can be found on www.whitechapel.org.uk.
The Whitechapel Mission is entirely dependent on voluntary giving, both to meet running costs and also to provide the much-needed clothes and other items for the homeless people who make use of its services. For example, the Mission gets through the equivalent of four large lorry loads of clothes each week and many thousands of cans of tinned food, and other non-perishable items, are needed every year.
For over 130 years the Whitechapel Mission has embraced John Wesley’s Rules of Christian Living – Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can. The Mission needs our prayers and practical support and, following the Mission Supper, a circuit initiative to provide such support is already being put in place.
James Strawson – Cranleigh Methodist Church
This article will be published in the June – August 2013 issue of ORBIT, the quarterly magazine of the Guildford Methodist Circuit.