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‘Homeless Jesus’ Makes First UK Visit — and Now Sleeps Rough on a Bench Near a Scottish Church

This is not a drill.

“Homeless Jesus” is now a Glasgow resident — and was greeted by dozens on arrival on Thursday as he slept under a heavy blanket.

It’s his first time in the UK, after turning up in major cities all over the world since 2013, and even getting a blessing from the Pope.

Let me explain.

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“Homeless Jesus” is in fact a life-size sculpture designed by Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz. A casting has been placed in Nelson Mandela Place, near Glasgow's St George's Tron Church, to raise awareness of homelessness. The figure, lying with his face covered on a bench, is recognisable only by the crucifixion wounds on his feet.

It was brought to Glasgow by local priest Father Willy Slavin, who was contacted in 2015 by Schmalz. The project, organised by the inter-faith Glasgow Churches Together, was granted planning permission earlier this year, after a similar proposal was rejected by a council in Westminster in 2016. It cost £25,000, and was paid for by local churches, individual donations, and voluntary work.

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"Christmas is a time when people are more likely to show concern, kindness, and generosity towards the rough sleepers in our society,” said Father Slavin. "But the homelessness issue is with us all year round. This thought-provoking work of art can act as a daily reminder."

Schmalz created the work after seeing a homeless person in Toronto, and initially churches refused to display it. Some critics thought it would encourage homeless people to congregate nearby.According to the BBC, Schmalz named the statue “Matthew 25” after a line from its gospel inspired him.

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine,” it reads, “you did for me."

A painting designed by Scottish artist Peter Howson, awarded an OBE in 2009, will be shown next to the statue until Christmas Eve. It will then tour Scotland in 2018 to "aid in awareness whilst highlighting the plight of the homeless, and homelessness issue.”

"I wanted to ensure that his face remained anonymous to highlight that this figure could, in fact, be any one of us, at any given time," Howson added.

There are 11,800 people in Scotland sleeping rough, in hostels, or in unsuitable accommodation. But it’s predicted that homelessness in Scotland will rise by more than 53% over the next 25 years. A study by Edinburgh's Heriot-Watt University, commissioned by Crisis, also found that the number of rough sleepers could double if the government persisted with current economic policies.

The Scottish government has committed to building an additional 50,000 new homes by 2021 as part of a £3 billion investment. But for many, homelessness is a problem set in stone this Christmas — and will persist long after the holidays are over.

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