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 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 are of course different attitudes, I’ve heard and seen abuse and maybe you have too. I wonder if you also wonder why that is, why vulnerable people are treated in this way and what might be going on for those who have strong aversion to them,
As I heard Russell Brand say in a piece about homelessness ‘it seems the more vulnerable and exposed we are the more damned we are’ – this was from a Trews commentary on a Fox News report in homelessness in the states – I found it so sad watching the Fox reporter presenting the ‘problem’ of homelessness as the fault of those who were there sleeping out, I wonder what you make of it? For me it brings to light clearly the role the media can have in creating viewpoints.
I feel though there’s another way to a viewpoint, one we can take ourselves; having conversations, finding the life in every encounter, not that this is always easy, I’ve been shouted at, called ignorant – 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 even beautiful stories.
Should anyone’s basic needs be unmet? I don’t think so, and while it’s just one person at a time, I feel like these encounters can tell us so much.
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 share from your own experience recording you speaking, write a bit or share some links and I’ll collect and re-share them here.
I’ll start with this some recordings of people I met between the end of December and now (late January) who agreed to share a little bit as I recorded them and list of resources I trust and know below:
in these interviews the Universal Credit is mentioned or ‘benefits’ this Guardian article describes what this is and the issues that many are facing because of it’s implementation.
Another reference I’d like to offer, this article (again in the Guardian) about the deportation of homeless migrants. Like the two friends I talk to here, it is made increasingly difficult for people who have come to the UK to root here and contribute to a society, as they would like to.
I also had the blessing of talking to Janie who runs this project Janie and Friends every couple of weeks on the Strand, pretty much opposite Charing Cross station, I was so touched by the story of how it started, thanks for sharing Janie, chasing the name friends for the project in itself is I feel a beautiful step toward those in need, have a listen to Janie story here…
‘they want to have their hand held’
(London resource list)
https://centrepoint.org.uk / https://www.foodcycle.org.uk / https://www.shp.org.uk / https://www.connection-at-stmartins.org.uk/
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
Encounter before a environmental demonstration with group DANCE (more about them on a journal post of mine here)
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 .
Patricia in London
Wealth inequality and Crisis charity winter shelter project volunteering
It is difficult to walk in a big city and not notice some people begging around tube stations and cash dispensers, and train stations. In the last years though, the problem seemed to have alarmingly increased as I see people sleeping in tents across London. This is shocking and not acceptable in such a wealthy city in a developed country. Charities like Crisis are doing an amazing job and in December 2016 as I was in London for Christmas and the New year I collect in the shelter they opened for homeless people. It was an incredibly heartfelt experience, very humbling to be able to connect with people living on the streets, listen to them and share time with other helpers who came from such a wide range of backgrounds. It was truly a life change exactly as I can now connect with people in the streets- I was a bit shy before- and I know that there are in our society others like me who believe in a better world and who think that together we can make changes happen. I am very grateful to everyone contributing to create this sense of sisterhood and brotherhood.
Thanh Hà Dương
Giving and receiving kindness in London and thoughts of homeless (being away from your home as an international student)
…and a song
– “Hello – this is a little something for you – I am sorry I forgot about the cutlery but hope you can find some in the nearby Pret.”
– “oh – for me? Thank you but are you sure? How about your dinner? Have you eaten? Are you sure I don’t eat your dinner?”
* a frozen moment *
//in my head – oh what should I respond what should I respond – why did he ask that – is he going to receive the box??? – question mark question mark//
-“oh ah ah oh hmm Oh – yes this is for you – don’t worry I had mine – I just made something extra and hope you like it.”
(Conversation continued on in respectful manner ‘thank you thank you thank you you’re welcome blah blah & blah, followed by a quick goodbye as I was rushing home and it was cold)
Just simple as it seems however I found myself moved and kind of being frozen a little while before replying to the homeless gentle man I encountered in Leicester Square.
The man, that I met few months ago, left me with thoughts by the way he genuinely asked if I had dinner and was truly concerned whether he would have my dinner instead if he took the box. It was a warm act of kindness to me when I was doing the ‘giving’ but I received the ‘giving’ in a surprised way. Normally, whilst handling a container of food or cake that I prepared to the people living on the street that I passed by, I often received a smile, a ‘God Bless You’ & ‘thank you – have a lovely day’ responses – which of course makes me a happy person. I just expected a response that I had received as usual and planned to quickly ride away since it was after work, I was probably tired, needed a rest, & my bed, & it was cold.
But I rode away with a very content mind – probably feeling more special and greater than the other previous encounters. I received love whilst offering love. I just didn’t expect that from his humble position – living here & there, everywhere & nowhere at all – asking people in the busy cross road for Money for Food – he still has the capacity to think for others – for me it’s really beautiful & moving.
I cycled home, singing in my head, after all the strain & stress that I faced from dealing with difficult guests at work,
but I was content & it kept me feel the need to jot it down & share.
I remember my final year in University during Christmas holiday: a friend texted the group chat that there was a homeless man for some reasons sneaking into her student accommodation on campus, he also went to the kitchen to eat the food, then locked himself in the communal toilet – security had to come around to ask him to leave. It didn’t happen to my accommodation, but imagine I would be freaked out if I was her, seeing a stranger in my flat, eating the food, then had the toilet for himself in that freezing evening. But then, it was the condition, the weather was so cold & he had no food.
From that incident, I told myself that whenever my condition allows, I would love to cook & share something I have for the people on the street. But just until when moving in London, I had the time and energy to do so, after finishing my shift at work – even just sometimes.
I have never been homeless, in a physical term – (& I hope I never will be). But I remember my first Christmas holiday here 7 years ago when my sister and I spent our 3 weeks off to travelled around the UK.
We used CouchSurfing back then (we both loved to spend time with the locals, practise out English but also we were so skint *I guess this was the bigger reason hahaha*– we were just not so willing to pay for hostel for every single town/city we passed by. For some reasons, we didn’t manage to find a host for that night in Bath. It was close to Christmas – family time – who would be open to receive guests during this time. We had booked a very early train to our next city hoping that we could perhaps stay in the waiting room that night. Unluckily the train station was closed night time.
We then ended up wandering around the streets of Bath, looking for a safe place that we could warmly close our eyes for a bit was really difficult to find a place just to rest or not to be cold for a bit – CCTV was everywhere – and it was like sitting down, rubbing our hands for 5 or 10 minutes, the security came around to ask us to leave.
Then again, walking around, hopelessly finding a corner that the winter breeze and midnight cold wouldn’t visit/disturb.
I never got the meaning of Christmas – it’s not something we were born and raised with. People go home for Christmas but International Students like us, instead travel. I felt – I actually did feel homeless, in an imaginative way – a sense of alienation to the custom, tradition and celebrations, I just didn’t feel a sense of belonging and connection this particular time of the year. (7 years by – I still don’t – Christmas time always comes with loneliness and isolation)
The experience though – no way near and I could ever compare with the experience of people who live on the street, especially in the adverse weather, meanwhile, winter hasn’t shown his algidity yet. In a way, it has left me trying to get the gist of it and how it may look or feel like to have no shelter at all.
p.s: I scrolled down my blog and came across this little tune that I wrote to the man that got into my friend’s accommodation aforementioned Christmas season 2 years ago so here is something to end this very lengthy email .. :-Đ
Experiencing the increase in homeless Women (and of colour) and thoughts on inequality of giving and ‘hidden homeless’
Short story by writer Kirsten Downer
Hi Joe, here’s a short story I wrote based on my experience of crossing the river twice a day passing countless homeless people for whom the bridge is a kind of refuge as well as a bleak begging ‘marketplace’. I wrote it for the City of Stories
competition and it made it into their 2019 anthology of London writers. It was also sparked by a conversation I had with a homeless woman near where I live, who had a doll.
STATUES AND ZOMBIES
Monday morning and she’s pushing her tired body across London Bridge, one of hundreds heading north from the station. She can taste the damp rain cloud hanging over the city, reducing the Canary Wharf towers to faint outlines, like a ghost army camped at the city gates.
Sara passes the line of human statues on the bridge twice a day. Their backs to the wall for shelter, empty coffee cups in front of them. She rarely stops in the morning – not enough time – but this morning her eyes land on a plastic doll, lying there on the Bridge, tucked up to its chin in an orange duvet. Next to the doll sits Fatima, a slim woman in a tracksuit top, sitting atop her cardboard layers. Sara knows her name from a previous conversation.
The part of Sara’s brain not thinking about work wonders how old Fatima is. When she smiles and chats she looks about fifty, despite her missing teeth; when she relaxes her mouth, her jaw slumps like an old woman.
‘Morning Fatima!’ Sara drops a coin into her paper cup. ‘Sorry, that’s all I’ve got. Would you like this tangerine?’
The doll is bald and pink. Her blank innocent eyes are blue and have seen no pain. Her rose bud lips are slightly parted, poised to smile.
‘Thank you darling. How are you?’ Fatima takes the tangerine. Her eyes are the colour of mahogany , with splinters of lighter brown.
‘Tired and late as usual. You have a doll?’
‘Because of my daughter.’
‘That’s nice. She gave that to you?’
‘No, it’s to remind me. They took her away from me when she was five.’
Sara opens her mouth and closes it. A herring gull keens overhead; the low churning of a Clipper passes underneath them.
‘She’s in Saudi Arabia. But I’ll see her again. When my nephew sends the air tickets.’
Fatima has mentioned air tickets to Sara before, when in a rare spare half hour, she offered to talk to an MP on Fatima’s behalf. ‘It’s ok. My nephew will send air tickets soon, for me to go back to Saudi.’ That was more than a year ago.
They say goodbye and Fatima watches Sara rejoin the river of zombies. She calls them zombies because of the way they move, all facing the same direction, never looking right or left. She has learned to read their mood. Today they’re miserable. It’s Monday and the schools have gone back. The zombies know there will be no holidays for months.
Very few of the zombies tilt their heads to look out at the distant hill and the river moving east towards the sea. Fatima can’t understand that. She’s never got tired of looking at that round green hill, with its trees and houses. She’d never seen green hills like that before she came to England.
Quaker involvement and a shot excerpt from writer Jennifer Kavanagh
Thanks, Joe. Good for you. I’ve been involved with homelessness ever since I came to Friends 20 years ago. Started the QHA
mobile library etc. Also wrote a book about home when I interviewed a lot of homeless people, and created a boardgame, Journey Home. So it’s been with me a long time. And now am doing a large-scale book with others – an oral history of the streets of London – those who work and/or live on the streets.
It’s Christmas: tides of shoppers sweeping past street homeless people to buy more and more. A group of about ten men converge on the rubbish sacks outside a sandwich shop in Regent Street: foraging, scavenging. One of the men said it was
freefalling. You hit the streets. It’s miserably cold and depressing, it’s lonely, it’s scary – bloody scary on the streets, it really is. Everything is taken away from you. You haven’t got no rights any more. Your life is worth nothing. Within a week you’re a complete mess. You lose your dignity, your pride. (from Journey Home by Jennifer Kavanagh)