Ten years ago I was leading a seminar at the Greenbelt festival on homelessness with Housing Justice. We had arranged for an actor to interrupt the start of the session, pretending to be homeless and appeal to the 300-odd people in the venue for cash. We wanted to recreate something of the dilemma and tension of how to respond to someone presenting urgent needs.
The stunt did its job. It certainly created tension – and prompted a more honest and realistic discussion than would otherwise have happened. It also led to people sharing their own stories. One of the people who stood up and spoke was Chris Ward (pictured).
Descent into rough sleeping
Chris took the mic and spoke about his addiction, mental health problems and his descent into 3 years of rough sleeping. After a suicide attempt and a spell in psychiatric hospital he was given a flat but his chaotic life continued. A local church tried to help him but he was continually abusive.
Chris told everyone that his recovery journey really started when an older lady at the church, called Doris, sharply challenged him. Doris had had enough of his behaviour and told him so.
Many people in the church had been kind and nice to Chris – and this had helped form a connection with him. But it was Doris’ hard words which hit home. As Chris says in the interview below:
‘Her truth got me on the road to recovery’
It was a great example of grace and truth in action.
At the end of the session, I asked Chris if he could come with me when I was speaking at the Youth venue later that day. He said yes, so I scrapped what I had planned and simply interviewed him. It was far, far more powerful than anything I could say. You could have heard a pin drop as he spoke.
This is the original article I posted after meeting Chris for the first time: The best speaker at Greenbelt 2011.
In the ten years since then Chris and I have become close friends. We speak almost every week and he has got to know all my family well.
Its also been productive. We co-wrote a booklet Homelessness: grace, truth and transformation and have done many talks together at conferences, youth groups, at Lee Abbey Devon and at St Pauls’ Cathedral and Lambeth Palace. We were on BBC Radio 4’s Beyond Belief to discuss the links between begging and spirituality.
Chris continues to volunteer at a local Hub for people affected by homelessness and I wrote this longer article reflecting on a recent talk he gave at the Hub’s Men’s Group.
Its been quite a journey – for us both. I have been hugely blessed by Chris’ friendship. His background and experiences are very different to my own but no one has taught me more about the realities of addiction and the hard road of recovery. Plus, we have had a lot of laughs.
I want to keep this post short as I wanted to encourage people to listen to this interview recorded back in 2018 where Chris talks about his journey off the streets, his therapy and his pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago. I can promise its worth listening to: