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Getting to The Heart of Homelessness

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.

I suppose airing from rural Ireland, it’s something I was never really faced with on a daily basis. Sure I’d hear about the “poor homeless people” on the news.

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.

 With that being said, It really angers me when I hear people say things like “sure it’s their own fault” “they are druggies” “they deserve to be homeless”. No. No one deserves to be homeless. Sure some people may have made some bad decisions, but haven’t we all?

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.

~J x

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Asking for it a Review: Social Media, Slut Shaming and The Issue of Consent

*Contains Spoilers*

I don’t normally do book reviews, but after recently finishing Louise O’Neill’s asking for it, I almost feel compelled. In fact I think it’s something I’ll start doing a lot more of. Since finishing college It’s great to finally have the freedom to read what I want to read again! So lets get down to it.

I picked up this wonderful gem whilst browsing Waterstones on a lazy afternoon last Saturday.
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The story follows Emma O’Donovan an 18 year old girl from a small town in Ireland.

It was one of those books I found myself wincing the entire way through. It invoked every single emotion in me, and some I didn’t even realise I had.

On the surface Emma seems to have it all, she’s popular, is surrounded by a group of friends and is incredibly beautiful. If I’m honest at first I found her character a little annoying. She’s selfish, inconsiderate, and obsessed with material things. She’s not a good friend and to be quite blunt about it, she’s a bitch.

However, I soon came to realise how important these elements of Emma’s character were for the development of O’Neill’s plot. She doesn’t create the stereotypical ‘good girl fall from grace’. Emma is desperate to prove herself. She does things she knows are reckless to test people’s perceptions of her. She constantly repeats the mantra ‘I am Emma Donovan I am Emma Donovan’, in an attempt to reassure herself that she knows who she is, she is confident and in control, but it couldn’t be further from the truth.

Deep down Emma is struggling with her sense of identity, placing all of her self worth on her physical attributes. It’s almost as if she views sex as a form of acceptance. She ends up being raped at a party by 4 boys she thought were here friends. The narrative that ensues as a result can only be described as heart breaking.

On the night in question Emma flirts with boys, wears a revealing dress, and even takes drugs. All actions which are used against her afterwards in an attempt to claim she deserved what happened to her, that ‘she was asking for it’. Pictures of Emma passed out on a bed with the boys taking advantage of her are uploaded to a Facebook page called ‘Easy Emma’. In one picture one of the boys is seen vomiting over her, while another urinates on her head, evoking a vile comment on the page saying ‘she deserves to be pissed on’. Emma is completely unresponsive in the pictures, but don’t worry ‘she was asking for it’.

The rest of the novel deals with Emma’s struggle to come to terms with what happened. The saddest part of it all is that like many victims of rape, she blames herself. She didn’t want to report the boys. She wanted to protect them. She even tries to apologise to them after  a school teacher contacts the guards. She lies and tries to pass it off by saying she was pretending to be asleep. It’s her fault her mother has taken to drinking and her father can’t look her in the eye or socialise with his friends. It’s her fault her brother has lost his girlfriend. It’s her fault her friends aren’t really her friends any more. It’s her fault the lives of the ‘Good Boys’ are ruined.

Only it’s not. It’s not her fault at all. And that’s the point O’Neill is cleverly hammering home. Emma gains national notoriety as ‘Ballinatoom Girl’, and it’s an all too familiar narrative. We’ve seen it with Ireland’s own ‘Slane Girl’, where photos of a young girl performing oral sex  at an Eminem concert surfaced on the internet. Of course she was the slut. She was the whore. She was the irresponsible one. No mention of the boys on the receiving end. Or the person who photographed it and circulated for the world to see.

‘Ballinatoom girl’ is not just a work of fiction. She is a representation of every woman who has fallen victim to harassment, assault, slut-shaming, and rape. She is someone’s daughter, sister and friend. She should not be dismissed. We need to talk more about consent and rape culture.

O’neill’s novel is forcing society to take a long hard look at itself. Why are we vilifying young girls for virtually everything they do? So what if they wear short skirts, drink vodka and post selfies. Does that mean they deserve to get raped? I just don’t understand why we are so quick to pardon the guilty and punish the innocent.

The shocking reality is this novel is everywhere. It’s real. It’s happening here in Ireland, and it’s happening all over the world. Take the recent Brock Turner case in the US. It honestly makes me sick to my stomach. A rapist serves 3 months of a pitiful 6 month sentence for the rape of a girl at a college party. But it’s okay. It wasn’t his fault. His life was ruined. Dreams of becoming a professional swimmer slashed as a result of what was it his dad put it? ’20 minutes of action’.

It was all her fault of course. The girl who’s name we don’t even know. The girl who was attacked. The girl who’s body was laid bare behind a dumpster for all to see. The girl who cried rape. The girl who can’t remember. The girl who was drunk.

It’s just not good enough. I am so grateful to Louise O’Neill and the many other talented and brave authors who are writing about this subject. Lets not give in to this ‘keep it quiet’ attitude that Ireland has long grown accustomed to. Let’s give our ‘Ballinatoom girls’ and our ‘Slane girls’ a voice. It’s the least they deserve.
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Yes to equality

love is love

I live in a country which fought for freedom for so long,
Yet denies it’s citizens the tune to their own song.
I live in a country where same sex couples have no right to marry,
and young people have far too many burdens to carry.
I live in a country that’s trying to put a boundary on love,
amongst bigots and oppressors not worth speaking of.
I live in a country where gender balance in nature is the golden rule,
and we must not all swim in the same pool.
Children must have both a mother and a father,
having two mams or two dads is not something one should rather.
I live in a country where a woman chooses to take her own life,
because it isn’t accepted to make her girlfriend her wife.
I live in a country where it’s a privilege to be straight,
but being gay is met with hostility and hate.

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I want to live in a country with more tolerance, support and compassion.
Lets bring acceptance and understanding back into fashion.
I want to live in a country where everyone is equal in the eyes of the state,
love shouldn’t be gendered, and it shouldn’t be an issue of debate.
The impending referendum has seen such positivity from the yes campaign,
this is a solidarity I want the country to remain.
I feel comfort in knowing that change is on its way,
and I hope that Ireland will vote “yes to equality” on the 22nd of may.

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Pondering Perception..

Sometimes worrying about what other people think about you can really stop you from just being you.

No matter how hard one might try to convince themselves that they don’t care about what people think, the truth is they do. We all do. If we truly didn’t care then we wouldn’t make such a point of saying it in the first place. Well, that’s just my opinion. 

Unfortunately society has made perception, well, everything. I think it’s extremely sad that so many people are afraid to be themselves for fear of being judged or branded “weird” or “different”.

Society has created labels and categories for us to “fit in to” and the funny thing is, even if you’re brave enough to defy the norms, you’re still actually labelled as a “misfit”, “outsider,” “hipster” etc. If you’re someone who hates labels and prides yourself on being different, well I’m sorry to tell you, you’re still part of yet another group of “non-labelers”.

It’s unavoidable really. We’re just not allowed to be who we are without someone or something pointing the finger of judgement. People form opinions of you based on everything, and you can’t please everyone. No matter how much you would like to.Image

It doesn’t matter if you’re the most down to earth, honest, straightforward, nicest person, you might even be second to Mother Theresa, someone will still find something wrong with you, someway to put you down, bitch about you, make you second guess yourself.

I mean the fact that we are in the 21st century and there are still some people who are so vehemently anti-gay. Society and attitudes are definitely changing, but it’s just another primary example of how perception dominates.

It saddens me to think about how many men and women are out there pretending to  be something they’re not, because they are afraid of what their mother, father, sister, brother or best friend may think based on what’s “accepted”.

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I mean who decided on what is or isn’t accepted in the first place?

Why is it that thin is considered attractive? Yet fat is ugly and undesirable..

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Why is it that being straight is normal? Yet being gay is disgusting or a sin..

Why is it that one skin colour is seen as superior over another?

Imagine if everything was turned on it’s head. Imagine if you were straight in a crooked world. Imagine if you were the skinny girl dying to be fat. Imagine if you were the rich kid wishing you were poor, or the white man wanting darker skin. Seems pretty inconceivable doesn’t it?

That’s because we’re just so used to how things are, how they’ve always been. Society might never change, but we can. We can by being confident in ourselves and our abilities, by straying from the herd and just daring to be different every now and again. Different in the sense that we’re not afraid to have an opinion that’s slightly out there, or to stand up for something we believe in, even if not everyone agrees.

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