Cost-of-living crisis, Covid, Brexit and Ukraine war have created a perfect storm of hardship. But more people are stepping up to help like Simon the Cyrene – Ewan Aikten

As chief executive of the homelessness prevention charity Cyrenians, I’m often asked about our name: where does it come from, is it religious, are we a Christian organisation, and so on.
The story of Jesus's crucifixion has elements that can speak to people even if they are not Christians (Picture: World Youth Day via Getty Images)The story of Jesus's crucifixion has elements that can speak to people even if they are not Christians (Picture: World Youth Day via Getty Images)
The story of Jesus's crucifixion has elements that can speak to people even if they are not Christians (Picture: World Youth Day via Getty Images)

To be clear, no, we are not a religious organisation, we are completely secular, but yes, the name does come from a religious story. As a secular organisation, we do not exclude people of faith or their stories; we include everyone.

The name Cyrenians comes, appropriately for this time of year, from the Easter story. On the way to Golgotha, the place of crucifixion, Jesus fell, and Simon the Cyrene was “volunteered” by Roman soldiers to carry the cross for Jesus.

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Cyrene was located in modern-day Libya, so Simon had already travelled a fair way to be in Jerusalem for the Passover (there is some debate over whether Simon was a dark-skinned African man but since only his hometown is mentioned and it was a place which had a sizable Jewish population back then, his ethnicity is unknown).

What the story says is at a time of trouble for a stranger, he helped carry their burden and journeyed with them to a place of transformation.

You don’t need to believe in the religious aspects of the story for the power of the metaphor to speak to you. It highlights the significance of journeying alongside people through difficult, painful realities, and how that makes space for change.

It's the core of what we do in Cyrenians; we step up to walk alongside people going through difficult times and support them on their journey out of them, and we work to stop people facing crisis in the first place. That’s what we mean by tackling the causes and consequences of homelessness.

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My fear these days is that our ability to get beside those in tough places will became more and more limited because of the perfect storm of the cost-of-living crisis, the pandemic’s continued impact, and the economic consequences of Brexit and the Ukraine war.

Demand for emergency food is up 50 per cent. Demands on mental health services are increasing daily, with some specific areas up 200 per cent. There is an increasing in demand for support for families in conflict, and for support for young people struggling with school.

The signs are all there. We may be on the way out of Covid in a public health sense, but we are not out of a time of crisis.

Yet despite these difficult times I do see hope. We are seeing increasing numbers of people asking if they can give their time to us.

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Fundraising is challenging but we still have individuals and organisations wanting to give what they can and share what they have.

And I see more organisations across the business, public and third sectors wanting to collaborate, rather than compete, when seeking solutions to the challenges we all know are the reality for so many.

It's not quite the case we have all become Simon the Cyrene but, perhaps thanks to the community spirit ignited by Covid, there are more people willing to consider journeying with people in tough realities, both metaphorically with donations, and literally walking alongside those we support through volunteering and community work. And these things give me hope in these otherwise difficult days.

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