According to a recent Guardian/Shelter finding, ‘1 in 200 people in the Uk are homeless’
(from the article) More than 300,000 people in Britain – equivalent to one in every 200 – are officially recorded as homeless or living in inadequate homes, according to figures released by the charity Shelter.
Using official government data and freedom of information returns from local authorities, it estimates that 307,000 people are sleeping rough, or accommodated in temporary housing, bed and breakfast rooms, or hostels – an increase of 13,000 over the past year.
Prompted by my friend Tom’s birthday gathering this year at St James’ Church on Saturday 26th (all welcome) in Islington in the shape of a concert/ project to bring awareness to the issue of homeless in London, I’m interested in gathering stories, encounters and resources that try to put some light in the situation.
Since I can remember I’ve spoken to people asking for money on the street – my mum always stopped and I do too.
There’s life in every encounter, not that this was always easy, I’ve been shouted at, called ignorant, been threatened – though the vast majority of times I’ve been thanked, and when I’ve taken the time and moved in to listen, I’ve been allowed into intensely moving, heart stopping, painful and beautiful stories.
I just wondered what has been your experience? Do you have stories of encounters that have moved you? Have you been Homeless? What has felt good to do and what resources do you know that could be shared?
Please record me you speaking, write a bit or share some links and I’ll collect and re-share them here.
I’ll start with this small recording of 3 people I met between the end of December and now (early January) who agreed to share a little bit as I recorded them and list of resources I trust and know below:
(London resource list)
Charlotte in Canada…
small summary of the homeless issue in Canada
The homeless situation here is often dire in Vancouver there are probably 4000 people living on the street .In a cold climate city such as Edmonton it is about 400 .We have a housing crunch under way with high rent and low availability so a large number are always on the verge of homelessness in an economic downturn . As housing is a provincial matter the scope of the problem varies accross the country . On the west coast with an enviable climate it is a magnet for the transient population who can at least survive winter on the street .Our city Nanaimo had a 7 month occupation of a tent city but the municipal government have finally stepped up and provided supportive housing units and put 60 percent of tent city in these units for the winter . Not all cities are as proactive as Nanaimo has been ..however if the homeless and activists had not been demanding so urgently that their needs be met Nanaimo might not have acted . The 40 percent left are now on the streets and it is insufferably cold and wet so there is much more that should be done.Last year I fed dozens of the homeless community as well as distributing blankets .This year tent city was a stones throw from where we lived and it became overwhelming ..I was also threatened by a lady who runs a soup kitchen in the back ally not far from my house.. because I dont have a licence .She benefits greatly from grants and other monies which im sure she pockets but thats not for me to say ..but I did because I am not a saint. There is a problem though where people are attempting to profit from other peoples downfalls ..thats universal .The first nations have their own problems shabby housing in underfunded Indian reservations .That is something wierd..you cannot even imagine like 3rd world conditions in 650 reserves living in total poverty.Undrinkable water ..15 people to a 2 bedroom house is not uncommon .I knew little of this in the UK .My husband (who writes on economic development for First Nations )has been on 200 Indian reserves in Canada and has seen them up close .Before Christmas we visited a reserve north of Nanaimo with food and gifts for a First Nation family .The house had been burnt inside to a crisp..basically condemned .The smell was terrible.no furniture..no door..and there were children .If the house was outside of an Indian reserve more might be done to help this family but sadly they are the victims of systemic racism. And that is a small summary of the homeless issue in Canada .
Thank you Marco in France,
a story of sadness and sharing food
On my back from Plum Village once I’ve been for some night in Paris. Once I crossed a quite big place and I’ve seen so many homeless people, one next to wheel chair, another one right behind me and rats running all over them. I pretty much collapsed, cried and become very sad. I tried to practice compassion instead of suffering with. It has been hard during this night. I already have had experience with sharing food but the days after that I did it way more conscious and compassionate. Back in Germany I have a “Brezel” to homeless man while he was sleeping, some minutes later I saw him again eating his “Brezel”. That was stunning, that is mindfulness, he enjoyed it and that was quite moving.
Kay in Cornwall
basically I feel a tremendous sadness that people in this rich country should be homeless, and would think our governments would make it a top priority, a desperate situation to find yourself in.
Joseph in London
I listened to some of your conversations with homeless folk: really moving. I am a bit shyer than you and tend not to talk to the people I give to which is something I could definitely improve on for this coming year. However, i do have a brief story of an encounter. This was last summer. Dharma Action Network (DANCE) were gathering at Golden Square in London as we do before our protest actions at Barclays Bank, when a man approached us and asked what we were doing – which was pretty brave I thought. He said he was from Zimbabwe and had been in the UK for a few months and was waiting for leave to remain. He was sleeping rough in the Square and had an infection and looked tired. He was obviously well educated and was very interested and impressed by our protests. He had been involved in protests in Zimbabwe and knew some prominent protest figures there. We had a whip-round for him in the group and he was very grateful. I next saw him as he walked past one of our protests outside Barclays and we had a brief chat: he said he had been wondering what was happening with us. He was still waiting to hear from the home office. I never saw him again. He was a kind and caring man a long way from home. I hope it’s all worked out for him. It’s so easy to forget how fortunate I am; to have food, warmth and a sense of belonging.
A man and a dog, thank you for this touching story Frankie
Some years ago I lived in Liverpool, near the station there was a man with a dog, I always noticed how much care he took for the dog, less for himself though he seemed well enough, he would sat good morning to everyone who passed and I started to notice how consistent that was, every morning , the same hello as he stroked his dog.
Sometimes he would ask for change, sometimes he wouldn’t , I went through the questions of should I?, can I afford it? and after a week or so of passing the best for my conscience I found was to give £2 a day, enough for a coffee I thought. One thing I couldn’t give was time and I regret that, I was just on time for work without anytime to spare – apart from one weekend I was running near by and he recognised me, I stopped for a few minutes, he told me I was keeping this dog in dog food, we shared names and I never saw him again after that, station staff told me that they’d called an ambulance (a few mornings later) when they came in and his body was laid there by the wall, he had passed away in the night.
The most amazing part of the story is that I looked after the dog, I was running again a few days later and it appeared in the park and came to me, I recognised it straight away, same old red colour.
My house mates and I called it Stanley after the park he found me in, Stanley passed away a year later- I told the story all year, helped me settle it in me I felt, we had some beautiful runs, nice to share it again. Thanks Joe
Charlotte in Vancouver…
Charlotte is a writer, thank you for sharing this Charlotte,‘The Girl With No Shoes’ a short story
She sleeps on the streets, her head resting on a worn out cream leather handbag, its contents spill from the broken zip, an array of dirty clothing. What do you do when you cannot look at a face? There is a homelessness of soul in the ungodly manner of those who walk past her, striving only to see a glimpse of her bare bony arched feet that bleed into the blisters and callouses of a life barely lived. In the background street music fills a silence, drumming like a hammer to the nails of a coffin as a guitar plays. There are an estimated 3700 homeless in Vancouver and Courtney. 17, is just one young homeless woman. In front of her a sign reads, “To proud to prostitute, to honest to steal.”
In Canada, there are between 200,000-300,000 homeless people. Common public opinion appears to be that the leading cause of this is substance abuse, alcoholism or mental illness and that the homeless have only themselves to blame. The truth according to statistics gathered by many organisations around Canada is that the lack of effort to end poverty is the leading cause, which begs the question, doesn’t society have a duty to help the poor and impoverished made homeless?
Courtney is awake, she seems oblivious to the traffic of people whizzing past and the coffee in paper cups placed beside her. She appears to be staring at nothing and the world stares back with an infinity of scowls among a few kind faces. Isnt it sad how many people consider the homeless as a burden and an eyesore? I approach her,and she looks at me as though she wants to speak, then quickly looks away, her eyes glazed with tears staring across the street to a restaurant. “What’s wrong?” It occurs to me seconds after that everything is wrong.
“I heard they were giving away free food over there, but they won’t let me in because I’m homeless and because I have no shoes!” she explains. What makes Courtney’s story all the more unfair is that Courtney lives in front of a shoe store, In fact as we speak the shop owner comes out to ask her to move. “Move away. You’re affecting my business!” he callously demands, before returning to serve a well-dressed lady who doubtlessly already has numerous pairs of designer heels safely stored at home.
According to a Canadian Government report on homelessness, “Thousands of children run away from home each year in Canada.” These street children and adolescents are often victims of sexual assaults or physical or psychological abuse at home. The streets however can often be a worse alternative. Courtney slept through winter in a layer of jackets and no sleeping bag or blankets. She has the worn down look of someone twice her age. As she hungrily consumes the cake I got her from the local coffee shop she starts to tell me about her life, she doesn’t stop eating. A pigeon joins us to pick up the crumbs. “That man, he moves me everyday, he doesn’t care all he cares about is money, I shouldn’t stay here I suppose” “If he offered you a pair of shoes, maybe you should!” She laughs in agreement “He won’t though!”
A man of Aboriginal descent walks past us, inebriated and hopeless in worn out sneakers then sits on a bench at the bus stop. He looks confused as though he has lost everything and somehow found himself here in the hustle and bustle of modern living. Every time a bus arrives he pretends this is the one, the one that will take him home. Aboriginal people represent only 2% of Vancouver’s overall population according to Statistics Canada. However in a 2011 Metro Vancouver Homeless Count one in four homeless people were found to be of Aboriginal ancestry. “Spare any change?” he questions. “Get a job!” Is the reply, someone moves to another seat.
The unemployment rate for Indigenous people in Vancouver is significantly higher than that of non-aboriginals and their total yearly income lower. Aboriginal people and communities are still deeply affected by a loss of cultural identity and the abuse faced in residential schools. These are a people that need respect and understanding, but instead too often face discrimination. It’s more difficult to seek employment when you are of Aboriginal descent, especially difficult when homeless. The conditions on the streets invite very little comfort and it is not uncommon for those living in such drab and hopeless conditions to turn to alcohol or illegal substances. For the youth of Aboriginal ancestry or non-aboriginal ancestry the chances of turning to prostitution or theft as a means of survival increases every night they are left to sleep on the streets.
Courtney tells me she arrived here from Saskatchewan over the winter. It was one of those days no one really wants to go outside. She had broken with her parents and come here to live with a now illusive boyfriend, she didn’t like him anymore, he was trying to persuade her to be a prostitute. “He says I can’t live with him the landlord won’t like it, anyway he lives in a bad place, I don’t want to do anything like that” “Why don’t you ask for help to get home ?” Courtney had been refused financial assistance on account of being under the age of 18 and feared to ring her parents, so here she was another statistic. The girl with no shoes. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
* Included photos a homeless friend with good sense of humor using a fishing rod to fish for money , A statue in Alberta ,A drawing I included with original story . Courtney was able to get a small amount of funding and left Vancouver after 6 mths, returning to her Province ..She is now 23 .