As most of you know I’m an early commuter to work each morning and I am always intrigued by my fellow travellers that I meet en route. One of those is a homeless girl, about the same age as one of my nieces, who I often bump into on my way to pick up a newspaper. There’s very obviously a pretty girl under all those tatty layers and in another time & place she would be planning nights out with her friends or buying make up. We always exchange pleasantries and I always stop to pet Billy, her beautiful Staffordshire bull terrier who like many homeless companions is probably better cared for than many pets. Occasionally, I’ll pick her up a cup of tea when I collect my first coffee of the day.
Last week she told me that someone had given her the money to purchase a coat for Billy as he didn’t like the cold and I nodded as like many cynical souls thought the money would probably be spent on booze or cigarettes. However, I was pleasantly surprised when I next bumped into them to see that Billy was proudly sporting a very nice fleecy lined jacket and looking a lot happier for it
The other morning, however, she was quite distressed and said that another homeless person had stolen their tent and contents including the dog food. “Can you believe stealing from the homeless? It’s not like I’ve f***ing got that much in the first place” and I could have wept as she shyly showed me a sweater she’d discovered carelessly discarded next to one of the litter bins.
I was deeply touched by her plight and like I know many of you would have done, I bought her a few items from the shop just to keep her going. As we shared a McDonalds breakfast, I tried to reassure her by telling her that life wouldn’t always be this bleak for her but from someone who’d never been hungry or homeless a day in their life, I’m sure my words sounded hollow. The daily grind of finding somewhere to take safe shelter out of the bad weather for the night and just getting through the next day to start the drudgery all over again. It’s no wonder that many turn to drugs and alcohol to blot out the harsh reality and at the end of the day who I am I to judge them. What do I know about sleeping fitfully just in case you’re attacked, asked to move on or have your entire world stolen from you. Like so many of us I know nothing about being so cold and hungry that I don’t know whether I will make it through the day let alone week.
The fact is whatever city or country we live in there are always going to be insufficient safe accommodation for the amount of homeless people who live on our streets whilst our governments spend billions in foreign aid. I see many homeless on my way in to work many being moved along by retailers as they open up for the day; have we really become that desensitized to those in need on our doorstep?
A conversation with our grocery delivery driver, who also confided in me that he had also been made homeless after the break-up of his marriage, made me realise that we are all only one step away from finding ourselves in the same situation. The loss of a job followed by eviction is an all too common tale. Don’t believe me? In a heartbeat you can find yourself on the same downward spiral as many others before you and it may take several years to turn your life around; some just aren’t that lucky and will end their days on the streets. Try securing a job without an address and then tell me how easy it is.
So in the true spirit of paying it forward this year the very next time you pass a homeless person at the very least spare them a smile because that really could be you.