Friday, 7 November 2014

TALES OF THE CITY (HOMELESS) by guest Blogger and Homeless Walk team member Carmen Harris

A homeless walk with members of London Spiritual Events & Socials. 

Some of the Team of Helpers from a Homeless walk on 6th November 2014 with London Spiritual Events & Socials

Didn't sleep last night. Not a wink. My thoughts were with Kevin, the slight and quietly spoken man we left sitting on his suitcase, shivering outside the firmly closed doors of the hostel. We'd tried our best but our best just wasn't good enough. We could only hope that the hostel manager would keep to his word of locating an outreach worker who might find Kevin a do...ctor. No-one fitted with a catheter, needing to empty their bladder hourly, whose only available facilities are the horrendously insanitary public toilets, should be abandoned overnight to face the elements on a cold, rainy night.

Our evening began in Victoria, instead of our usual meeting point in Charing Cross. As we gathered in front outside the Iron Duke pub in the station, I noticed a pale, gaunt-looking lady hunched on a bench behind us. Her cough wasn't just bad, it was chronic. Roxie became the first recipient of our bags of goodies. As she gratefully received gloves and toiletries and a new sleeping bag to replace the thin damp one she carried in her bag, she rambled on about her terrifying life on the streets, how fearful she was of bring mugged yet again, how her children had been taken from her, how she'd witnessed a murder, how she existed on a small pension and for 10 long years Westminster council had passed the buck in housing her so she spent most nights in the nearby coach station to keep safe and warm. We felt helpless to solve her many problems and even Odette's contacting a friend in the know, resulted in no real solution. Though the group's policy is not to give money on these walks, Stephen's gift of £20 so Roxie could buy an a Oyster card and keep on the move to scout hostels around London seemed the very least any of us could do. With heavy hearts we split into two groups and headed in different directions towards the coach station to find more Roxie's. 

Curiously, the coach station and deserted streets of Victoria offered up very few homeless and those we found sleeping on benches outside bus stops politely declined our offer of winter goods. We resorted to popping into the police station and asking where we might find our target group! We were directed to Strutton Ground near the Old Bailey where we found a desperate group of non-English-speaking Romanians camped beneath scaffolding on the street corner. They became very excited when they realised we were offering free food, clothing and bedding and by the time we finally moved off, they had alerted another group emerging from a local park carrying large tatty squares of folded foam that constituted their beds. Among them was an old lady on walking sticks and a young girl who pointed pitifully at her feet till I gave her a thick pair of socks. At this point we decided to head back to our old stomping grounds in Charing Cross and jumped on the 24. Lo and behold, who should be on that bus but the other half of our group! We swopped stories - Eva's McDonald's £2 vouchers had gone down a treat; and Odette's group told us that there was a dire need for women's undies on the streets.

When we alighted on the Charing Cross Road the first person to meet us was a veteran homeless man who said he already had all he needed, but was happy to stand and chat a while about life on the streets and in the local hostels. We came across our man with the dog who gratefully accepted a square of my daughter's homemade choc brownies but wanted for nothing else. Next, we came across another group of Romanians, young men unsuccessfully looking for work, now camped in doorways, and one woman among them who made gestures with her arms till we realised she needed deodorant and who was so pleased when Stephen produced a stick. The English speaker among them pointed to a good-looking young man in the group and proudly told us that back home this man had a car and two houses. We saw Angela 'the artist' pass by and stopped her for a chat and an offer of tea. She was on her way to the night shelter before the rain came and it got filled up. 

We carried on and found a group of men camped in other doorways and stopped to have tea with them. Among them, Alex from Lancashire, an ex-insurance fraud investigator, candidly told us that he'd come to London after discovering that his wife had been sleeping with his MD boss. His was the usual refrain. Because he'd walked out on his job and because he had no fixed address, he wasn't entitled to benefits, and without benefits it was impossible to get either work or a foothold. A young Asian man approached me to say he was very appreciative of the work we were doing. He handed me a huge bag containing two trays of assorted sandwiches to distribute. Delighted, we looked for hungry recipients. That's when we came across Kevin, desperately waiting outside the hostel. I was so glad I'd held onto the thick hooded coat till I found someone needy enough. He was my man. He was badly in need of medical treatment yet no agency, not even the hospital ('you're not an emergency till you have an emergency') seemed willing or capable of helping him out of his dire situation. When Odette approached some passing police officers, they were decidedly offhand. Nothing they could do to help. Kevin had been working in Germany for many years but when he fell ill, because he had no medical insurance, he had to return to the UK and somehow, enroute had lost his passport. As a result he was not eligible to see a doctor, receive hospital treatment or respite in the hostel. He'd been waiting for 40 minutes for the hostel manager to phone an outreach worker, so I decided to see if I could speed things up. The hostel manager had just opened the door to a man and woman and was being firm about not allowing the man entrance as he'd been drinking. His female companion was fighting her friend's case asking for compassion as that day he'd been diagnosed with HIV. When I confronted the manager with my own set of requests for my own desperate man, I actually felt sorry for him. So much need, so little resources, and having to be the arbiter of who gets let in and who is locked out. He promised me that he'd step up his actions on Kevin's behalf, but as he closed the door I was under no allusions that in the next minute his attention would be redirected to another set of impossible problems. So, with even heavier hearts, with the rain coming down, there was little further we could do than purchase two bottles of water for our man, make sure his hood was up to keep off the rain, and wish him luck. 

On the way into the tube Stephen and I met two Scots who seemed to be in good spirits, one of them delighted with the soap, soap dish and water bottle, regaled Stephen, a fellow Scots, with tales from the homeland; and the other showed off his toned body despite years on the streets. As we bade him farewell he promised us he'd stay out of prison and thanked us for the Dolce Gabana jeans he'd just acquired from us. Another night, another experience of deathly lows and pitiful highs.

If you have either rucksacks or sleeping bags or restaurant vouchers you'd like to donate, please let us know. 

So perfectly described by Carmen Harris and shared with permission
Carmen Harris - Writer and Healer

No comments:

Post a Comment