Yesterday night at County Hall the third introductory training session for Cardiff Street Carers took place, and produced another eighteen people, bringing the total up to nearly a hundred now. I couldn't get there at the start because of my commitment to the Chi' Gung class, which I feel is already proving to be beneficial. With help in the form of a lift down to County Hall from Clare however, I was able to get there by the tea break. It's so frustrating to have a clash of special commitments, when days can pass with nothing outside of my routine office activities.
At tonight's session I learned from the HANR Outreach team leader that Mark, one of the city centre's long standing street 'characters' died a couple of months ago, in hospital from multiple organ failure. The long term damage from drink and drugs, plus the menal and physical injuries sustained during his street life made his existence nasty brutish and hard. He used to come into St John's from time to time, and could be spotted on times draped in a Welsh flag. We never really knew if he was drunk, high on drugs, or just very exuberant, for he would pray spontaneously out loud, when the church was empty, and sometimes during a service, he'd join in prayers with loud 'Amens' and 'Praise the Lord'. His regular religious habitat was the City Temple, where he had committed his life to Christ. On the few occasions I had a coherent conversation with him, his faith was apparent, not least in his endurance of hardship and suffering without bitterness or self pity. His glimpses of a higher life somehow enabled him to survive and to have a secret dignity in the face of his own brokenness and destitution.
" ... and with Lazarus, who once was poor, may you have eternal rest".
Then this morning I joined Paul Hocking, Chair of Street Carers for a meeting at Willcox House with HANR team members, a city centre management team member and Sergeant Karen O'Neill to discuss the re-location of the Charles Street nightly feeding station for street people. Pressure is on from St David Centre Security staff, and Marks & Spencer's staff to move away from the area, because of a few unpleasant incidents, and what is perceived as occasionally intimidating behaviour on the part of some of the clientèle towards late shoppers. Soon the old Ebeneser Chapel is to be converted into two presitgious restaurants, and there will be even more people out and about in the evening to feel disconcerted by the unruly behaviour of the few among the beneficiaries of the 'soup run'.
All parties would prefer a solution that was in everyone's best interests. Nobody is prepared to invest that much time or any real money in a solution such as a permanent building location in the heart of the city, close to the very places where disposessed people like to hang around day and night, for good or for ill. Seeing Ebeneser turned into two posh restaurants when the city already has more table spaces than it can fill profitably all the time, is for me the stuff of shattered dreams and deep disappointment with fellow Christians' lack of missionary vision and confidence. That building would have been the ideal venue for a feeding station and rehabilitation project in the manner of Victorian church community enterprises.
The need of the poor was on the church's doorstep, but they sold up and moved to somewhere more convenient for their needs. By the time it was a 'fait accompli' there was nothing anyone involved with Street Care work could have done to make a difference. Now we are working together amicably with those who have all the power they need to compel the Street Care feeding station to move away from its present side, to somewhere less contentious. But none of them were bringing any suggestions to the table this morning. There's no deadline, but the need for this to be resolved has now been openly voiced. It was something I saw coming more than a year ago, when I first learned that Ebeneser had been lost to the restaurant industry. I just hope and pray a positive solution can be found, with plenty of time to prepare for it.