Sleeping rough in London

Whilst en route to a meeting the other day I felt totally overwhelmed by the amount of people sleeping rough on the streets in London and in some of the harshest weather we’ve had all year. Like everyone else I was rushing to get somewhere (I’m always on the verge of running late – call it eternal optimism!) and couldn’t stop to ask if they were ok or ask if they needed anything. But of course they needed something, worse still… they need so much more than I can realistically give them. I spent the rest of the day feeling sick to my stomach.

I really believe that our typically Western society, incredibly rich financially but distinctly lacking in community, is not set up to help those who need it the most. Not to take away an individuals personal responsibility, I actually think it’s our societal norms, our community – or lack thereof, that has contributed in some way to their current situation. One small moment in their lives, one bad choice or reaction that caused a ripple, the butterfly effect that has led them to this very moment in time. The red tape, the rules and regulations, the unintelligble small print, the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. The utter struggle to survive in amongst all of that and with limited tools available. If you can’t get with the programme, sign on the dotted line, fall in line and figure out a way of contributing to the system within the confines already set up for you. In no uncertain terms – you’re out.

There are parts of adulthood that I still battle with and I’m sure there’ll be many more challenges ahead, despite my growth. I have stuck my head in the sand rather than dealing with difficult situations. I have survived toxic relationships, just. I’ve struggled to put food on the table, pay bills or make rent on more than one occasion… My point being, haven’t we all? So, now imagine trying to deal with all of that and then some, whilst suffering from an undiagnosed mental problem, or having an unsafe familial environment, or no family at all! Or perhaps after having next to no education – again thanks in part, to the system just not being set up for those that are different or ‘other’ in any way. In a world where children with dyslexia can be written off as stupid if they haven’t got the proper support early on, it’s easy to see how people can find themselves on the fringes of society, struggling to stay afloat. We are all difficult, complex and fragile beings – whether we want to admit it or not and I fully believe that it could be any one of us, sleeping rough and begging to survive, had we just made a few different choices in life. This is why I find it so hard to comprehend that people can just ignore what is going on around them, have we really become so ‘busy’ and desensitised that an actual human struggling to survive in front of our eyes, doesn’t peak our interest, at all?

What can we do, though…

We all know it’s not as simple as giving housing to the homeless, not in every case anyway. There’s the need for a thorough yet gentle rehabilitation into society, not easy when many of these individuals have been treated like lesser beings for a large part of their lives. Therapists, social workers, educators, health care practitioners… Just a few of the people needed to ensure a safe transition back into society. Ensuring that they can get work, re learn how to work within a team, answer to a boss, control damaging impulses and urges, beat addictions, pay bills on time, just generally look after themselves. Obviously this is all on a case by case basis, I’m definitely not assuming that everyone on the streets has a drug addiction or a mental illness, I’m just trying to highlight that each case is unique and potentially supremely complex and therefore a one size fits all approach probably wouldn’t work so well.

It’s easy to see why giving people a sandwich or a quid here and there just doesn’t feel like it’s cutting it. Like it’s just vaguely waving a tiny cartooned plaster near a huge gaping wound.

Now, please know that I’m not writing this with the intention of berating people, as if I’m some Saint that goes above and beyond every day, because I don’t and it’s not. I just wanted to put my frustrations and sadness down on paper (screen) and get it off my chest, even if no one actually reads it. Perhaps though, it will strike a chord with one of you and the next time you see a situation so disturbing that you can’t just ignore it, you’ll stop and do something amazing. Perhaps it’s as simple as stopping to talk to these people as well as buying them a hot lunch. Actually talking – or should I say listening, could help hugely if it’s done by more and more people over time. If it’s especially cold, as it will be for the next month or two, and you have £20 to £25 spare, you could offer to call up the closest hostel and pay for a night, over the phone? When it’s this cold, simply getting people into warm beds feels like the most important thing…

Anyway, I know I haven’t even come close to presenting a solution for this issue but thanks for letting me vent for a few paragraphs. Here are just a few of the organisations that you can contact if you see someone who looks like they need help, or if you want to volunteer some of your own time or resources.

I know that it’s hard to see and that as with most difficult things, it’s easier to ignore than to actually ‘feel’ but we really need to stop normalising this situation. In a country as rich as this one, widespread homelessness and even the occasional sleeping rough shouldn’t be an issue and it’s not ok.

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