I was in a rush. Heading home after a busy day, it was freezing. As I skuttled out of the door towards the bus I heard someone say, ‘Evening…’ in a small but friendly voice.
Glancing round, I saw the man who had spoken, sitting on the floor in a thin sleeping bag, wearing a wooly hat.
Living in London, like in so many cities you are very used to seeing homeless people. My mum worked in a hostel for more than a decade, I was often there visiting and I’m aware of many of the issues surrounding homelessness. But so often, you’re rushing around, living your life and sweeping passed everyone else. Its easier not to acknowledge people in difficult circumstances. Its awkward. Its difficult.
I’m not in a financial situation to offer money to people to help, so I feel bad, and I pass by. If people ask for change, I give it if I have any in my pocket, if I can’t, I say I’m sorry.
This fella just said, ‘Evening…’
I snapped out if my usual rushing regime and went right over to him. I’d been foraging in the Tesco discount bins again and found a massive multi pack if crisps. I asked him if he wanted some. I almost felt bad for offering shite crisps but he said yes straight away. I gave him a few bags and sat down beside him. We chatted for a few minutes.
There is a dreadful stereotype that all homeless people are always drunks or drug users. Of course thats not always the case. This guy was stone cold sober. I asked him if he had anywhere to go. It was utterly freezing. He said he would stay there as long as it took to get in somewhere. The Mayor has set up emergency shelters this winter so he was hoping to get in somewhere. Usually by the evening most if the homeless people around there have disappeared from view. He told me the local hostel cost £18 quid and was always full anyway. We had an honest chat. At the end I told him I hoped he would be ok and find a place for the night. He thanked me for the crisps and he thanked me for chatting. I said goodbye and headed off.
I’ve been thinking about our exchange all day. I’m really conflicted about it hence I’m writing this post. I wish I could have done more. Should I have done more? He didn’t ask for anything from me. He just said ‘evening…’. We chatted about his life, his health, I told him about my mum and the hostel she worked in, he told me his story. I felt he was really glad for the company. And I was glad to chat to him.
I want to be able to do more. But I am a realist on this front. I’m in debt, not devastatingly but I have debts that I’m paying off (hence this whole blog) and realistically if I lost my job tomorrow, next month I couldn’t pay my rent or bills. So I have to sort out my own house.
I’m lucky enough to have a family who could put me up in a crisis. Many families are the same, would rally round but couldn’t do it for long before they would all be in serious jeopardy. Sometimes its the way the cards go down that dictates how things turn out and I’ve met many homeless people who have good familys.
So this has made me think a lot about myself, and what I do. And that I really need to continue very, very seriously with this low spending, saving, and get myself as healthy as I can be. Stop waiting for change to just happen.
And I pledge that I will do more to help Londoners who are struggling, as and when I can. I’m going to look in to the things I can do volunteering wise, I’ve been thinking about joining a befriending service. I think ageuk have a program but there must be others out there too. It seems that a lot of people who end up in desperate situations can suffer from isolation, and that isolation can be a causal factor. It’s one of the things I fear the most myself.
All this running through my mind because a man just said ‘evening…’
If I see him again I’ll stop and chat. I hope he is ok.