The most recent data published by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) reveal a very ominous rise in homelessness, now for the third consecutive year since 2010. In England, over 113,000 households approached their councils as homeless during the 2012/13 financial year, with around 53,500 being officially accepted as homeless and in 'priority need'. In urban city centres such as London, the prevalence is further cataclysmic. In comparison to last year, there has been a 16 per cent increase in homelessness, with almost 6,500 sleeping rough at some point during 2012/13.
Homelessness can be a very destructive and lonesome experience, with victims faced with greater vulnerability and social exclusion, thus making access to the correct level of care immensely problematic. In fact, homeless people are 40 times less likely to be registered with a GP; 13 times more likely to become a victim of violence; and also die on average at a shocking age of just 47 years old. The need to address this growing dire situation very pragmatically is undoubtedly of significant health-related, political and societal concern.
The Acts of Random Kindness (ARK) project is one of a growing number of magnanimous endeavors spearheaded by London University Islamic Societies (ISOCs) to address this very real challenge. The ARK project in particular was founded under the tutelage of King's College London ISOC. In recent weeks the inaugural Tackling Homelessness project took place in Walthamstow in collaboration with the Rukhshana Khan Foundation - founded by the excogitate Jehangir Khan after his mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Khan comments, "I teamed up with the ARK project because they were able to offer the support service which I can't. Through listening to the concerns of the homeless people and by providing basic medical assessments, they can offer better direction towards specialist support agencies".
The Head and Founder of the ARK project - Angy Elsaghir explains, "we launched the ARK project so that we could continually undertake righteous good deeds, whether it be taking time out to visit the elderly; offering food or rucksacks full of basic necessities to homeless people; or even just visiting sick children in hospital and providing presents to cheer them up. The giving of gifts - it's a love between people, and it's the little things like these that are necessary for us to put our imaan [faith] into action."
Among the homeless attendees, David confidently comments, "this [meal] has given me the energy to carry on until this evening, and I won't have to worry about my next meal". It is this kind of reaction that makes this type of work all the worthwhile, as Naveed Khan, Head of the Homelessness Project under ARK comments, "ever since I joined ARK, I've found myself in a position where I can actually help those around me. As young Muslims in the UK, it is especially important for us to highlight how Islam teaches us so many messages of peace, and love, particularly towards those in need".
Though there are altruistic organisations like ARK working in and around the city of London, the scale of homelessness cannot be understated and government must work tirelessly to combat the root causes. The consequences of the economic crisis - with unemployment reaching around 2.5million, coupled with cuts in housing benefit by £7bn, and the lack of affordable housing have all contributed to a greater number of individuals becoming victim to homelessness. The national charity for single homeless people - Crisis - describe a 'home' as being more than just a physical space, but also with social and legal dimensions that provide a sense of identity as well as a place of emotional wellbeing. It is thus imperative now more than ever for a serious and thorough exploration of the homelessness crisis we currently face right at our very doorstep.