So today I want to talk about something which I’ve witnessed more and more of since moving to London. Something we are all very much aware of, but often turn a blind eye to.
That something is homelessness.
I know it’s a rather grim topic and isn’t really in keeping with my usual light hearted or ranty pieces. But it’s important. And I feel like we need to keep the conversation going, at the very least. The last three months in this city have really opened my eyes. Behind the twinkling lights and the bustling excitement of London city life are real people on the streets. People without a home. People nobody cares about.
But I never really witnessed their situation for myself. Only the odd time when I’d find myself in the country’s capital, and even then it was usually just the drug dealing chancers harassing me at the Luas stop. I made the mistake once of giving one of them a couple of euro for a “sleeping bag” only to see him a mere half an hour later sauntering around Abbey Street again, a pack of Malboro Lights in tow.
So how do you tell the genuine from the chancers? How do you distinguish between those who are desparate for food or shelter, and those who are just looking to con you out of a few bob? For me I suppose it comes down to gut instinct. I think the majority of us have enough cop on to recognise when someone is really in need and not just looking for a quick score.
When you think about it we are all only one step away from homelessness. All it takes is the loss of a job, the inability to pay rent, or a mortgage. Some of us are lucky. We have excellent support systems, loving families who will take us in at the drop of a hat if anything ever goes wrong. But not everyone in this world has that. Some people literally depend on only themselves.
Last Sunday I was walking through Liverpool Street with my boyfriend when another couple approached us. They didn’t look much older than us. In a perfect world you could say we were just two happy couples in love out enjoying a Sunday stroll in sleepy London. Only the other couples reality was far different from ours. They were homeless, and clearly starving. The guy politely interrupted us, apologised for what he was about to ask, and then went on to explain that he and his girlfriend were homeless.
He told us he’s been looking for work for a number of months, but can’t find a job. He asked us whether we had any change at all to spare so that they might be able to get some food or a place to stay for the night. I turned and looked at the girlfriend who was holding her hands to her face and my heart honestly tore in two. I couldn’t help but think how different our situations were. How did they end up in this situation? What if that was us? We didn’t have much cash on us, I could only give them £2.50 and my boyfriend only had change in Euro, but they gladly accepted this anyway. The guy then tried to give us one of the lighters that he was selling but we told him to hang on to it. I couldn’t stop thinking about them afterwards.
I am met with this sad reality every morning on my commute. Many homeless people sit outside at the top of the tube stations, thousands rushing past them, ignoring their existence. We are all guilty of it though. We have more important places to be. We don’t have time. It’s not our problem. They got themselves into this mess, they can get themselves out. Oh if the shoe was on the other foot.
Lately though, I’ve been noticing more and more people stop to talk to the homeless, or buy them food, or offer them some small token or gesture of kindness. Yesterday evening I saw a blonde woman give a homeless man a bottle of coke and a sandwich. He couldn’t stop saying thank you.
This morning at Old Street a man in a suit stopped to talk to guy and his dog sitting on a tattered sleeping bag. “Alright mate” , he said, before saying he couldn’t chat long this morning, but he would see him later. It’s truly heartwarming to see these little moments of kindness in the face of such destitution.
A couple of weeks ago I saw this on my Twitter timeline and teared up.
It would be great instead of shaking our heads and thinking “oh how awful” that we actually took action and did something for these people. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, but something as small as a sandwich or a coffee is honestly so appreciated. If you find yourself on a serious budget (like myself), even a smile, a hello or a quick chat could really make all the difference. I know I’m starting to sound like one of those pushy charity workers you find yourself running away from on the street, but it’s just something I really wanted to talk about today. So if you’ve had a particularly shitty Tuesday like I have, be thankful in the knowledge that you have a warm house to go home to, food on your table, and a pillow to rest your head on.
There will be some very cold and lonely people out there tonight.