By Muhammad Mussa
LONDON (AA) - Every Thursday evening, Eva, a 45-year-old woman from Germany, makes her way to a mosque in North London where she will receive a warm meal, something that is hard to come by for a homeless person living on the streets.
Eva has been living in the U.K. for five years and has been homeless for the last three. She lost her job as a cleaner when the company she worked for closed down. Since then she has been living on the streets, struggling to find work and subsisting on handouts from churches, which have become scarce in recent months.
"Before the church would provide basic food and some shelter, then I had to ask cafes and restaurants for the food they don’t use and even then I am refused due to their policies."
For the last two years, however, Eva has been attending the ‘Meal for All’ event hosted by the Finsbury Park Mosque every Thursday evening where she enjoys a free dinner and talks to other homeless people and volunteers. The food served includes a variety of cuisines, from Indian curries to Middle Eastern kebabs and doner.
“I think this initiative is an excellent idea,” she said amid the hubbub of the mosque’s busy food court.
"They serve us good food with good portions and no one is left out. Out on the street you are made to feel alone and invisible, but here they talk to you and want to get to know you, not because you are homeless but because you are a human being with feelings and emotions."
“This initiative has changed the way I view the Muslim community in the U.K. Before I had negative thoughts about them but now seeing what they have done for me and seeing how they take care of the community, Muslim and non-Muslim, I can only thank them,” Eva said while drinking a hot cup of tea provided after the meal.
- 'Meal for all'
The ‘Meal for All’ initiative was launched by the mosque in August 2015. They also provide a number of services such as counselling on issues that surround homelessness, providing information on local services in which homeless people can have easy access and employing volunteers who give company to the homeless.
“As well as welcoming you into their community, they also respect you and treat you with dignity and that is why I will continue to visit the mosque, because they make me feel good,” Eva said one last time before she left.
The mosque gained international attention last year when Darren Osbourne, in an act of terrorism, drove a van into worshippers on a night of the holy month of Ramadan, killing one and injuring many.
Nonetheless, the mosque and community have not allowed this terrorist attack to affect their work, acts they argue make up the core of the faith.
“The Meal For All is a project, it is a small project in which we try to help our community. Homelessness is a big issue here in the U.K. and it is increasing unfortunately. Every community and every community centre has a duty and responsibility to help on this matter, and this is why we decided to establish this project, we have our partners in the Christian community and the council who helped us start this project,” said Mohammed Kozbar, Chairman of the Finsbury Park Mosque.
“It is open for all, regardless of their religion, background and gender, and it is not only about feeding people, it is about socialising, bringing people together and trying to help them in other issues such as housing and unemployment and so on. So it is not just about feeding the homeless, it is more than that, it is for Muslims and non-Muslims as well,” he added.
“We’ve been through a very difficult and challenging time in the last year after the terrorist attack. But our community is very resilient,” Kozbar said when asked what message the mosque and community aim to spread with activities such as the ‘Meal for All’.
- Rising homelessness
Homelessness in the U.K. has become a prevailing issue, with one in every 200 people (over 300,000) in the U.K officially recorded as homeless, according to the Shelter charity group. These figures were an “underestimate” said Shelter as they do not include those who have not been recorded as needing housing assistance.
At the centre of Britain’s homelessness is the capital London where one in every 59 people are homeless. However, the North West region of England saw the biggest percentage increase (39 percent) since the previous year, according to Homeless Link, a charity for organizations working directly with people who become homeless in England.
Overall, the number of people sleeping rough in England has increased by 73 percent in the last three years, from 2,744 in 2014 to 4,751 in 2017.
There are many reasons as to why homelessness has increased significantly in the U.K. They include unwillingness from family and friends to accommodate the individuals and the rising cost of renting and maintaining an apartment.