Do you see them?
Lying in a dark corner…
Huddled up under multiple covers trying the extract some heat…
Lined up next to each other under the railway bridge seeking cover from the rain…
Do you see them?
As they block the entrance to the glitzy department store seeking refuge for the night…
Waking up from another horrid night of coldness and hunger on their makeshift beds …
Organising their belongings with pride as it is all they have ….
Do you see them?
Cracking jokes and firing up the first fag of the day to make light of their plight…
Do you see them and briskly walk past going about your business of the day?
Are you blind to them or do you look them in the eye?
I see them every day on my way into work as they wake up to the city’s morning hustle and bustle. And I see them again in the evening when I return to my warm cosy home and they prepare for the night ahead.
On occasions, I have looked them in the eye and even given some money and food. But as the months go on and their numbers visibly increase, I admit I find myself increasingly looking down…saddened and ashamed that in a world of plenty, an increasing amount of people find themselves with so much less…homeless, alone and condemned to a life on the street.
And with debates on immigration and protection of national borders in the daily news, one can easily conclude these are international refugees, illegal immigrants or paperless people. As if that somehow makes it acceptable and we can park the problem in our mind.
Yet what I hear as I walk past them are distinct London accents. These people are not from far-flung places but are locals and of all ages.
Whilst there are no exact national figures available, we do know that the number of homeless people in the UK now outnumbers the entire population of Newcastle. There are now 307,000 people sleeping rough, or in temporary housing, and the situation is only getting worse. Sadly but maybe unsurprisingly, London accounts for the majority of rough sleepers in the UK.
People become homeless for lots of different reasons. A real eye-opener for me, though, is that for many it is life events which push them to the edge of society. Situations which you and I might perceive as normal – something some if not all of us have to deal with at some stage in life – such as relationship break-down, job loss, stress and anxiety resulting into mental or physical health problems. Without a strong social and financial safety net, these people find themselves engulfed in a downward spiral of poverty, danger and isolation.
In a world of plenty, of more more more, have we become so self-absorbed, self-obsessed, that we are throwing away fellow human beings?
We have just come out of a period of excesses. Christmas: the season of plenty, the season of giving. Where over-indulgence is encouraged and justified. Where we pride ourselves with our spending generosity.
I am no longer convinced we even take the time to fully enjoy the richness we grant ourselves because no sooner than the first week of January and we spend even more money on gym subscriptions, and, frankly, obsessive health fads. What’s that all about?!! I shake my head in disbelief and disgust.
And that is why I bow my head in shame on my daily walk into work….
I am ashamed of contributing to a society and its culture of spending; a society that has such confused priorities that it pushes people to the edge, leaving them outside and preferably out of sight. Very much like our waste bins filled to the brink with our post-Christmas rubbish.
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