Today I passed a homeless girl sat near the cathedral. It was cold, rainy and I’ve got a brute of a cold. I was on my way to get myself a hot chocolate from Costa to cheer the morning up, when she asked me if I could spare any change.
I didn’t have any change on me, I rarely do (my mum tells me I need to stop acting like the Queen) so I apologised and walked away, as I have often done before.
I wrestled with my conscience all the way through TK Max, to Costa and within the queue as well.
I decided that, even though I am fighting my way till payday, I would go and ask her if she would like some food or a drink on my way back.
Maybe it was that this girl looked just a little older than me. Maybe it was the freezing cold weather and the rain. Maybe it was the fact that I read an article recently about how the average family in Britain is just one paycheck away from homelessness.
And yet we see it as a distanced issue – something that affects people but not us, not anyone that we know. That these people must live on the streets because of bad life choices, drugs or alcohol addiction. When in reality, most of the time this couldn’t be further from the truth.
The main cause of homelessness in Britain is family dysfunction. We take for granted, at least the people I know, that we have had nice upbringings. That our parents, if necessary, could help us out financially.
Sure, you hear sensationalised stories in the news about people who pretend to be homeless. Those who earn £100s a day, (definitely not in Sheffield!) or the addicts who turn down food and demand money from strangers instead.
Whilst I’ve no doubt these instances do occur, it’s a sad case of minority giving the majority a bad reputation that they simply don’t deserve.
What I can’t get my head around is why is it, in 2017, when we are developing high-speed trains and getting drones to drop off our shopping that we haven’t tackled homelessness? That it’s getting even worse?
I watched Professor Green’s harrowing documentary “Hidden and homeless” last year – one of the men he spoke to said that those you see on the streets are the brave ones. That he would wander the streets of Manchester all night just to avoid having to settle anywhere. That even though the public are told that safe houses and emergency accommodation are the answers for homeless people, they’re rife with danger.
Professor Green spoke about the thousands of “hidden homeless” who are sofa surfing or staying with friends with no fixed accommodation to call their own. This situation is common in London. These people have jobs, good jobs, but they simply can’t afford the extortionate rent that comes with living in the capital.
We need to change our perceptions and be a little kinder.
We need to stop viewing homelessness as an “us” and “them” situation. They may not have a home, but these are people –just like you and I. There is no difference except for a change is residency. Their life has taken a turn for the worse and they need a little extra help to get it back on track.
When I came back from Costa I passed the girl again. This time, she was accompanied by a friend who was also homeless. I asked them both if they’d like some food, or perhaps a drink from Tesco, to which they echoed “yes please”. Five minutes later I was back with two chicken and bacon subs alongside a flurry of gratitude. It’s amazing how such a small cost to me could truly make someone’s day.
I am not writing this for commemoration – I am no angel. I am guilty of the same things I’m sure some of you are. I have ignored homeless people before, shied away from their requests, feeling both awkward and sad as I did so.
There are wide, complex, political issues surrounding homelessness that we as the public can barely scratch the surface of. It’s a tough burden to bear – and people like Anthony Cunningham from L.I.F.E (a new beginning) amaze me. His relentless fight to cure homelessness in Sheffield is a true breath of fresh air.
Today I made a small difference in a person’s life, and it felt good. It’s my belief that you should do the same, too.
If we can spread kindness from the ground up, in time it’ll sow the seeds of change. Together, we can make life on the streets that little bit better for people who are just like you and me.