What if warmth was a foreign concept, food was a rare find, and shelter was a distant memory? What if you were homeless and what if it wasn’t your fault?
With the holidays fast approaching and families gathering I thought I ought to get twitchy on the laptop and write my final blog of 2016.
Keeping inline with the festive theme, but considering the needs of society, I felt an urge to raise the topic of homelessness on the UK streets.
Of late homeless people are facing a new control order called Public Space Protection Orders, or PSPOs. This order came into existence under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. It allows powers to criminalize acts that are not viewed as criminal. So for the homeless this includes sleeping rough and begging. That’s right, homeless people can now be issued an ASBO for being found sitting or lying in the same place continuously.
Sadly the majority of passer-by’s may assume the homeless person has a choice since programmes have been put in place to prevent this problem. The reality of these programmes is somewhat enlightening and there is a huge lack of funding and opportunity. The powers that run the streets will use these programmes as a weapon against the vulnerable stating they have no reason to be on the streets any more. Individual cases need considering so we can have a better view on this subject. So let us consider a homeless persons side of the story.
The country mouse has been uprooted and forced into city mouse mode. (That’s me). I have been a happy sand bug in Cornwall for the past two years but have become a City Shop Slave for the Christmas retail season. I must admit it’s not been the easiest move being hurled into the hustle and bustle of the materialistic world of dazzling light, futuristic shopping malls, and unusually large eyebrows on women. A new trend I assume.
However, on my commute I meet Billy a homeless man who sits in the same spot everyday outside my shop. As a writer of course I naturally wonder what his story is. After a sit down and a cup of tea Billy tells me what life as a homeless person is all about.
One of the biggest struggles some one faces on the streets is finding somewhere safe to sleep. Most nights Billy is woken up by either the frost on his back from the drafty, dirty door way he’s had to sleep in or a violent attack from a pack of random rouges. Being beaten up can be a daily occurrence for most homeless people.
In this particularly large city there are only two hostels that take in the homeless. Each night is a first come first serve basis. They reserve three beds for emergencies but *Billy is never considered an emergency. When the hostel can accommodate him it’s usually a night when the place is rammed with sex offenders and prostitutes so Billy chooses the streets instead and heads off to find the nearest draft free doorway.
He can’t spend too much time in the drop in centres through the day because day time is the best time to beg. Usually the change he has been given when begging will get him a sandwich and a hot chocolate once a day and the rest he tries to save but often spends on more food. If he makes any extra money he buys almost expired Big Issue magazines for cheap from his friend near the precinct and hopes to sell them on and make some profit. But the last time this happened the powers spotted him buying them and took the money and magazines off him because he doesn’t possess a license. The money was confiscated to cover some of his £1000 debt for ASBO fines, which were issued to him for sleeping rough and begging over the last year.
A charity close by was set up to help people like Billy. This was their ethos:
“We exist to provide on-going support for adults who are homeless, living in poverty or who simply need a sense of belonging and friendship. We work with similar organisations that share our mission and aim to provide information and guidance to those who access the drop-in. We open every Thursday between 7-8:30pm and provide food, hot/cold drinks and where possible clothing. We offer a befriending service and friendly social atmosphere with activities such as table tennis, bingo, movie night etc”
Sounds like an ideal place for the vulnerable?… This charity was soon closed down for reasons I have been unable to find out. All I can assume is that the powers that run the city can’t make money out of fining homeless people if the homeless aren’t on the street. Many homeless and vulnerable people lost hope and several of Billy’s friends committed suicide because of the drop in closure.
Billy has always had a rough time. At fourteen he was convicted of murder after he killed the man that sexually abused him for many years in an act of self-defence. Since becoming an adult this is all the community remembers him for. He believes this goes against him at drop in centres and hostels and he is labelled as a criminal ironically.
It can’t be easy watching families and partners waltzing in and out of stores carrying presents, all looking forward to the holidays when they will eat and drink with their loved ones under a roof in a warm house. I can only imagine the heartbreak people like Billy go through as its flaunted at them on a daily basis.
Baring this story in mind consider the mental health of someone trapped on the streets with not much hope of ever getting back on their feet and possessing a home again. A hot drink, a smile, a quick chat can give them a reason to still feel like equal humans and that society hasn’t forgotten about them. It’s only a small act but it might be all that person needs to get through another day.
Here are some Homeless charity websites you can contact if you are interested in volunteering or donating to an important cause that needs your help.
*Names have been changed