We are forever thankful for having the wonderful Carmen on our team as she so perfectly describes our evening's events which never cease to amaze me. Thanks to Carmen for helping us to raise awareness to the plight of homeless people. We learn something new each and every time we go out and we are slowly learning more about this crazy system that people find themselves in or not ! as not everyone want's to actually be in the system. Without a referral you can't get into the night shelter.
We got a lot of really good tips from last nights walk including how people desperately need good walking shoes and if you think about it, it makes complete sense. For those who have access to a night shelter, they may get in there between 9 and 10pm and then they are turfed out at around 7.00 am in the morning which leave them with around 14 hours to walk the streets. It's warmer to be walking and their shoes get worn down pretty quickly.
We met a man who was really keen to express his gratitude for what we are doing out on the streets. He told us that 3 of his friends had died on the streets and he reiterated how a blanket, sleeping bag , etc really can save someone's life in the cold,
I was saddened to hear that our artist friend Angela wasn't feeling too well, I think life on the streets is taking it's toll on her. She was sat there in her usual shop doorway browsing an art materials catalogue. She had many layers on but was still feeling the cold. I just can't imagine how she is going to survive out there when winter really sets in. She mentioned how it was worse as the night shelters heating was so high then it was a real shock to the system going from one extreme to another.
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So on to our fantastic guest blogger Carmen :-)
TALES FROM THE CITY (HOMELESS) IV - Homeless Walk by Carmen Harris
The big lesson is that street people aren't necessarily visible nor do they always accord with the stereotypical image of the homeless. There are those seeking work, who, despite the odds, take the care to present themselves well; and there are many who are full of pride about their hygiene and appearance. Towards the end of the night, deciding where to go next,... we stood beside a group of men congregating in an archway beside a pub. I noticed a dishevelled man walking past and asked him if he'd like some food or clothing. Suddenly, the group, an attache-carrier among them, who I'd thought were pub-goers having a fag break, emerged from the shadows. Each one was homeless! And each gratefully received our gifts of winter accessories, a sandwich from Polina's bulging rucksack and one of Debbie's plastic containers of homemade pasta. Then there was the well-spoken antipodean. Dressed in a fashionable scarf and expensive leather jacket she stopped to talk to Odette about the issues. She gave the impression of being an interested passerby, but it turns out that, having recently lost her business, she sleeps in the hostel and spends her days mingling with tourists visiting free-entry venues such as the BFI to keep occupied and out of the elements. There was also the presentable young man sitting on the hostel steps. Having been a builder for 16 years, the last few were on a zero-hours contract that led to him being 'released' by his agency. He enquired whether we had partners who could offer him a job and complained about the Eastern Europeans who had driven the hourly rate down to £30 per day so how could he afford to rent a room and live on that? But he was hopeful that he would soon sort himself out.
My highlights of the evening were: the white-bearded Father Christmas figure, delighted with the woollen gloves that would keep his hand wound warm and protected and who paraded the long quilted women's coat given to him by Debbie; the Big Issue Seller who was so grateful for Emma's dog food for his four-legged companion who stood like a circus act on his shoulder; the guy who we gently roused from his cold stupor who declined warm gloves and a hat but whose eyes opened wide when Michael and Tess showed him the chocolate heaven contents of their rucksacks, which revived him enough to realise that he could actually do with a few other things; one of the first guys we met who strode the streets with just the clothes he wore and who was delighted to walk away with a sleeping bag and rucksack full of goodies; the two polite men sitting outside Tesco's who were appreciative of Debbie's extra blankets and expressed gratitude for what we were doing on the streets. And the best of all, I spoke to the manager of the hostel who told me that the poor man fitted with a catheter whom we'd worryingly left outside their doors in the pouring rain last week had been sent to hospital to receive treatment. Not so good was hearing that Angela, our elderly artist lady, was feeling poorly - a result of the revolving door lifestyle of spending nights in an overheated hostel and being turfed onto the cold, inhospitable streets at 7.30am the next morning with nothing but a cold juice and a breakfast bar for comfort.
There is much kindness on the streets. A group of men, among them many Eastern Europeans who are here looking for work who find work hard to come by, congregate of an evening on the corner of the main drag of the Charing Cross Road until a kindly Asian man drives up, opens the boot of his van and distributes sandwiches to those in need. I saw a single woman being approached by one of the men, gallantly clearing the way for her to get to the front of the queue. There was the loving and responsible pet-owner, who was thankful for Emma's dog food and who made sure his dog Rocky was fork-fed before he began eating himself. There was the Big Issue seller who, upon hearing that we had an abundance of women's clothing, darted across the road to inform a homeless lady who usually stands on a particular spot. There was the young man who I initially took to be a homeless guy, but turns out having worked with the Sock Mob and Pavement People now goes around by himself befriending the homeless and distributing flasks of hot beverages and hot potatoes that he's baked at home. We were warned by the antipodean homeless lady not to feed people on the streets as this would only give the government reason to close down the already scarce food banks and soup kitchens. I'm not sure I agree. These people need the constant fuel of carbohydrates to keep warm on cold nights, not to mention the human contact that goes with acts of compassion. Besides, I really can't see any homeless person, because they've been offered a sandwich on a street corner, declining the warm environment, hot food and respite from the cold of a feeding programme. What a criminal state of affairs that would be, if the government were to use individual random acts of kindness as an excuse to shirk its moral responsibility. This is the same government that supports the inhumanity of zero-hours contracts; has made it almost impossible for the jobless to qualify for benefits; does nothing to address the dire lack of social housing whilst giving every financial incentive to property speculators causing a spiral of house prices; and has consistently opened the back door to immigration in order to drive down wages, to then cynically play the race card when discussing the issue, inviting division among ourselves.
We finished the night by dropping off a load of women's warm clothing at the hostel. Apparently, there's usually plentiful stock for men, but not for the lady homeless (who, I was told by our zero-hours friend, maintain a low profile in parks and bushes, to keep safe from street danger). We were told also that worn-down shoe leather is a big problem on the streets. I thought regrettably about how I'd turned down a kindly person's donation of men and women's winter boots as they would have weighed me down excessively. But, hey ho, you live and learn, and there's always the next time. Thanks again, Moira for keeping us on compass; and Odette for organising!
Carmen Harris - http://space-for-grace.webs.com/