How many times have you walked past a person that is begging in the street and taken no notice, how many times have you seen someone sleeping rough in a shop doorway or on a bench and not given them a second glance. The shameful thing for me is that I know I have done just that, countless times.
It is so easy to walk past a nameless person and to justify our reasons for doing so in the blink of an eye. ‘He’ll probably spend it on drugs or booze, they get offered homes you know but most of them don’t want them, bloody disgusting littering the streets, they’ve only got themselves to blame, I thought begging was illegal’ Excuses are not reason for justification.
Actually begging is illegal in the UK but then so is snorting a few grams of coke or buying dodgy booze and fags, avoiding tax, paying tradesmen cash to avoid VAT, parking on double yellow lines, claiming for whiplash in a car accident when all you did was to lose a nail!!. Yes I know some of you are guilty of something.
I was chatting to a good friend of mine at the weekend about the problems with homelessness because we had both listened to an interesting radio interview the previous week. A chap named Mark Johnson who had previously been homeless and a heroin addict, stated at the beginning of the interview that we should give money to beggars and the homeless. That initial statement got my back up and I had already pre-judged this man but, when I listened to his reasoning, it was as if a light came on somewhere in the recesses of my mind. What he was saying was that if you give someone money, you are not encouraging them to take heroin or whatever else it is that keeps them high, you are instead providing that person with what they need at that moment. You might be stopping them from committing a crime in order to get the money to buy the drugs, but you will be helping them to be in a place where they can at least deal with their misery for a while.
My friend that I was chatting to is an addict, it doesn’t matter what his addiction is, he admits it because admission is a part of his therapy. He is lucky, he has a wife and he has a home and after a year in therapy, whilst never cured, he knows how fortunate he is to still have a roof over his head. Do you know that once you lose your home it can take as little as ten days for you to become fully homeless, there is no magic wand, no one standing in the wings to pick you up. Many addicts families have washed their hands of responsibility way before the homelessness sets in. One minute you are a success the next you are looking for the nearest, driest doorway to spend the night in.
I could go on to quote all the miserable figures such as 1 in 200 people are now homeless (Shelter), homeless people live 30 years less than the rest of us on average, that’s 47 for a man and 43 for a woman. These are people not pests!! I am not suggesting for one minute that all beggars and homeless people are addicts but many of them are and any addict reformed or otherwise will tell you that their addiction was a result of some form of mental illness. We acknowledge mental illness now, that is a wonderful thing, but addiction and homelessness can be a by-product of mental illness, yet we choose mostly to ignore it.
Some of our homeless are on the streets because they feel they have failed, have lost everything, they believe they are not loved and of course one of the most disturbing of reasons for me is that they are ex military and have no idea how to cope in a civilian world. Check out http://www.ukhomes4heroes.com a fantastic little charity.
It’s all very well to keep posting on social media that its the fault of the Tories, if you want to be truly pedantic, you could look back at the last Labour government and see that Shelter stated that Labour were intentionally hiding homeless numbers in order to win votes. It doesn’t matter who you believe is at fault, what matters is that as a society we recognise the problem and we all strive to do something about it. We are never going to end homelessness, it is a fact of life and that has been the case since time immemorial but we can affect change of attitude. “I always wondered why somebody didn’t do something, then I realised, I am somebody”
It does not mean that you have to carry loose change around in your pocket and give to every person you see that is asking for it, No !! that is not it. There are many things that you can do. Acknowledge them, just say hello, have you ever stood in a crowded bar and ended up thinking who do I have to screw to get a drink in this place, well imagine that is how you feel every day that you are on the street, completely invisible. Say hello to someone, ask them what they need, if it’s a sandwich or a bottle of water, how much would that hurt you. Taxpayers in the UK pay 65 pence per year toward the costs for the royal family, that’s around £30,000,000. Do you notice that money being taken from your earnings, probably not. How many times this Christmas will you purchase yet another set of baubles or a roll of wrapping paper that you don’t actually need, why not give some money to someone that just needs to escape for a while albeit with a can of strong beer…… Interesting point in another recent conversation whilst walking to the local pub with friends, when asked for any spare change a friend said, “What so you can buy booze?” …. then another friend turned to him and said, “and where do you think we are heading right now!!!!!” kind of puts things in perspective doesn’t it.
It is not just at Christmas of course because this problem is all year long but it is Christmas so why not take a few seconds out of your life and actually talk to a homeless person, a beggar, don’t assume they are a part of an organised crime unit because 99% of the time they are alone, tired, hungry, scared, vulnerable, and do you know what, you should always think of the line “THERE BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD GO I” because if you don’t think it could happen to you, think again, it honestly could and it’s a very quick process.
So, you cannot avoid them because of course they will be sitting near to where you shop or where you go to draw your money out. Yes I know, you think it’s bloody annoying, don’t you. Where do you think they should be sitting, in the middle of a bloody field, what good would that do. Yes many of them have a mobile phone and so you think well how can they afford that, well many of your young 8 or 9 year olds have mobile phones because you believe they need to be able to stay in touch and to be safe….. Question answered then…… What would it honestly hurt, just to say hello, to spend a couple of minutes out of your day to speak to someone, maybe to buy them some food if that is what they want or to give them a pound from your loose change, as Mark Johnson said in his interview, it was a reaction like this that made him sit up one morning and decide that he wanted to change his life and that is exactly what he did and so he has gone on to help others. “You may find that making a difference for others, makes a huge difference in you “