After recovering from sickness one Maghera man has gone to extreme lengths to find out about the experiences of those living rough on our streets.
Joe Davidson was already involved in the Streetreach team in Magherafelt run by the Green Pastures Church in Ballymena, but decided to spend a night sleeping on the streets of Belfast alongside other homeless people.
“After having surgery for cancer three years ago, I now see life a whole lot differently,” said Joe. “I knew God had given me a second chance in life to fulfil his purpose.
“I felt I had to do more in my Christian life. I decided to go to the streets of Belfast on my own and get a real picture of what these people go through day after day.
“I thought that I would try to look as rough as I could with old clothes and grow a bit of a beard.
“I knew that I would have to sleep rough in shop doorways and make the best of getting fed. I only took my small pocket bible, a note book and pen, and my bus pass to get back home.
“My first day, as I got off the bus in Belfast, was a real eye opener. Stark reality struck me. Here, I was in Belfast and with no clue as to where I was going. A deep loneliness came over me as I took time to pray.
“I approached two or three people during my walk. One was an alcoholic and was just out of his mind and I could not get any sense from him.
“Another man was claiming his sleeping spot for the night outside a shop doorway. He looked as snug as a bug in his sleeping bag.
“I did not have the heart to tell him that I was acting a part. He told me that he didn’t go to church but that he did read his Bible. I held his hand and we had a short time of prayer together.”
Joe described how he met the most homeless people under the Albert Clock off Victoria Street.
“There were six people - all voluntary - helping them. These guys were doing so much and for so little in return.
“Some of the homeless people were well-educated but had just fallen down the ladder in life without knowing how to get back up.
“I asked a lovely woman where I could get a cheap bed for the night ... she made a phone call to the Salvation Army hostel and arranged that. It just shows you the love these people have.
“There is nothing more powerful than the human touch,” Joe said after his experience. “Giving a person a hug breaks the barrier of loneliness and shows that you care.
“Don’t pass them by. Talk to them and understand them. They are human beings.”