Ewan Aitken: I look forward to the Advent of an end to homelessness

Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated in 1968, the same year in which the Cyrenians were founded. Pictrure: AP
Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated in 1968, the same year in which the Cyrenians were founded. Pictrure: AP
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Every year at Christmas good friends of mine try to wind me up by sending more and more outlandish Advent calendars to my children – the further removed from the message of Christmas an advent calendar is, the more likely it is to be found in my house. Thankfully they haven’t yet seen the pork scratchings one I came across recently. Or at least I hope not . . .

My pleasure in Advent is not so much religious in the classic sense, as the idea of waiting for good things to come. Not passively but in hope, expectation and preparation, believing it is possible for good to overcome the things which harm us when we choose to act in love, in forgiveness and in hope.

This year marked the 50th anniversary of the death of the Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr who famously said: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

He went on: “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood.”

These of course were not dreams to be waited for but beliefs and hopes to be acted upon. As he also said: “The ultimate measure of us all is not where we stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where we stand at times of challenge and controversy.”

Martin Luther King’s great impact was to both await in preparation and believe in good things happening in confidence they would one day be real, and at the same to lead people in action to do what it takes to make those dreams come true.

Cyrenians are 50 years old this year. Founded in the same year as his death to stand with and journey alongside those grappling with homelessness, we have always held to the same belief that no matter how tough the reality someone finds themselves in, with the right support, without judgement and a commitment to be there whenever a stumble occurs, real change can happen and lives can be transformed.

The tough realities of homelessness begins in many places; poverty, social isolation, relationship breakdown, mental health challenges; experience of the criminal justice system, addiction, loss of employment, challenges with finances or access to financial support are just some of the starting points which can lead to homelessness. Homelessness is not inevitable but for those in these tough places, without the right support it is much more likely – especially when one leads to another which often happens.

Cyrenians work in all these areas, journeying with people so their tough reality doesn’t also become homelessness, and with people in the tough reality of homelessness and rough sleeping. Last year we journeyed with near 6000 people in tough realities and a further 6500 attending events and training.

This week we will launch our own digital Advent calendar – each day the new door reveals a bit more about what we do and those we journey with.

Some of our supporters like Barclays, Dell Secureworks, Scottish Futures Trust, Multiply, Edinburgh Rugby, Essential Edinburgh and others have “bought a door”. On those days they explain why they support our work and what they are doing on that day to encourage other people to support us.

You can find the Advent calendar on our Facebook, twitter and Instagram sites. It’s not a traditional Advent calendar. It is not religious, but I believe it holds true to the message of the season – of waiting and hoping for good things to come for all of us, especially those in tough realities, and acting together so one day they will come for us all.

Ewan Aitken is CEO of Cyrenians