The Happy Homeless Man

This time last year I was living in a shared house in Uxbridge, Middlesex. Every time I needed to commute to work, I would have to walk for thirty minutes to reach the nearest tube station – which required taking a pedestrian tunnel to cross one of the main roads. It was in this passageway that I encountered a peculiar homeless man every day. He was Indian (or of Indian complexion), had a thick, greying beard, was easily in his sixties, and I would always find him on a stained mattress coupled with its own duvet. How he had acquired these items was a mystery to me.

Sometimes he would be asleep when I passed him; other times he would be awake. Whenever he was awake, however, he would be sprawled out in a casual position (or pose, if you like) on the mattress – occasionally smoking a cigarette. Yet, not one of these characteristics were his most intriguing. What defined the old beggar above all was how friendly and modest he was as a person. Every time he saw me, he would recognise me and extend a silent, earnest greeting. ‘How are you today, sir?’ his face seemed to ask.

To begin with, I would simply smile awkwardly and continue onto the tube station. However, as the weeks passed, I started to develop an admiration for this elderly man. In spite of his situation, he always had a pleasant demeanour and never directly asked for money. The plastic cup was there waiting to be filled, yet not once did he plead or gesture towards it. He was unlike any other homeless person I’d ever encountered.

So, whenever I came home from work, I did whatever I could to make sure I had something to give him. I attempted to average two pounds a week, but when I didn’t have the change spare, I would ensure I always had something I could give him. A piece of fruit from my lunch would have sufficed in this situation.  I got dubious at times, thinking that once I was gone he would sneak off with the money I gave him and buy another pack of cigarettes. Although, after a while I thought, ‘You know what, mate – go ahead. You deserve it.’ It eventually got to the stage where I would hope and even look forward to seeing him on my daily commute. Even though we rarely spoke in conversation, he had made such a positive influence on my daily life.

Then, one day, he was gone. Him and every trace of his existence vanished. He never returned to that spot in the underground passageway and since moving to East London, I haven’t seen him since. I never even knew his name. I don’t know to this day what happened to that happy homeless man. Perhaps the police picked him up and moved him elsewhere; or maybe one of the homeless charities found him and have helped him to get his life back on track. I doubt he will ever read this, but wherever he is now, I can only wish him the best.

***

That was one of my more positive encounters with homelessness. But here’s where it doesn’t get so warm and fuzzy. Depending on where you live, homelessness is something we witness every day of the week. Yet, while it results in an estimated 4,134 people sleeping rough on any one night in England [1], we as a nation are reluctant to do anything about it. That, or we simply choose to ignore it. According to Homeless Link, there has been an increase of 16% in rough sleeping in the UK since 2015 alone. If you think that’s bad, you’ll be disgusted to find out that homelessness has risen by a monolithic 134% since 2010 [2].

Isn’t it convenient that our government doesn’t have the resources to provide the increasing homeless population with the help they desperately need, but have plenty of cash handy (£396 million to be exact) to renovate Queen Elizabeth’s palace? [3] £396 million! Just think of what that money could do; how many homeless people could be brought off the street and given the proper care. But no. While our capital’s oversized monuments undergo “essential” restoration, other areas in dire need of funding are mercilessly cut off. As a result, the hard work is left in the hands of charities like Crisis, Emmaus and Shelter. Although these agencies do whatever they can to bring rough sleepers in from the cold, they simply cannot provide for the entirety of the homeless population – meaning vast numbers are left to fend for themselves.

I think Johnathon Pie articulates the situation effectively: ‘It’s a societal failure, homelessness. […] It’s people that are hungry, begging and sleeping on the streets. And yet we’re encouraged to see homeless people as if they’ve somehow failed themselves; as if it’s their fault; they haven’t worked hard enough. […] A society doesn’t work if one person is living rough. It’s morally bankrupt if this is normal, and on the increase, and getting worse. […] Every day I walk past people who are cold and hungry and ill and homeless, and I don’t stop and give them everything I have. Shame on me.’ [4]

Homelessness is a horrid situation, and one that’s not going to rectify itself any time soon. When it comes to human nature, kindness should be a given. On the other hand, when anything that is supposed to fundamentally help people is being cut from government funding, it’s difficult to find room in our busy lives for selfless acts. Yet without us, the homeless community is alone. They have nowhere else to turn but to the common man. Now, I understand that everybody has commitments in their own lives that cannot be ignored. I recognise that all citizens can’t just be expected to spend night after night at the nearest soup kitchen to help solve this issue, but there are ways that you can help these people without going too far out your way.

For instance, instead of throwing out any non-fitting or unwanted clothing, donate it. If they would have otherwise gone to the recycling centre, then you may as well give them to a worthy cause. Another way of helping the homeless – according to The Telegraph – is by alerting professional authorities like Streetlink to any sightings. [5] By doing this, you’ll be helping to connect the right people with those in need. One of the most direct and conventional ways of helping the homeless, however, is by giving money. Whether you’re donating it to a shelter or giving it straight to the victim, you’ll be making life a little easier for someone worse off than yourself.

Of course, there’s always the argument that we shouldn’t give homeless people money because it will only enable the addictions they have. Well firstly, just because they’re living rough doesn’t mean they are addicted to anything – or that they’ll use your money to fuel their next drug fix. But if this is such a deep concern for you, then why not simply cut out the middle man. Go into the shop, grab a sandwich or a cup of tea and give that to them instead. That way, you’ve taken any possible temptation out of the equation.

Half the time, we don’t give money to the homeless because we simply don’t have spare change on us at the time. This is fair enough, as I have also experienced this on numerus occasions. Having said that, the number of times I’ve been short of cash in a store that doesn’t accept credit or debit cards is embarrassing. If you too go through this headache, then kill two birds with one stone. From now on, every time you walk past the cash point with an empty wallet, just draw out a tenner. Then, if the shop you visit doesn’t accept credit card, you’re covered. And at the same time, if you pass a homeless person on the way back, you’ll have something to spare.

I’m not saying this will solve the problem. But by donating whatever coins you have on you, you can walk on knowing that you’ve made that person’s day a little bit brighter. Because considering how horrid their days can get, a bit of brightness can make all the difference. We’re all guilty of walking by the homeless without lending a helping hand. Don’t feel guilty, though. It’s not what you’ve failed to do that matters now; it’s how you choose to act from now on.

Sources

[1]https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/585713/Rough_Sleeping_Autumn_2016_Statistical_Release.pdf

[2] http://www.homeless.org.uk/facts/homelessness-in-numbers/rough-sleeping/rough-sleeping-our-analysis

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/nov/18/buckingham-palace-to-undergo-370m-refurbishment

[4] http://educateinspirechange.org/alternative-news/journalists-rant-homelessness-christmas-amazing/

[5] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/11620159/Whats-the-best-way-to-help-the-homeless.html

Trump is President: Are We Doomed?

For many of us, the truth hasn’t quite sunk in yet. It’s unfathomable. Insane.  Preposterous. But I’m afraid we need to accept it. As of January 20th 2017, Donald Trump will be President of the United States of America ­– the superpower that essentially supports the entire world’s economies and political systems. And he’s here to stay whether we like it or not.

It seems completely surreal to me. I thought the world was starting to improve its attitude. According to Time Magazine (as of June 2015) gay marriage is now legal in 21 countries as well as America [1]. Global organisations like Barclays bank have been encouraging more diversity in their business cultures [2]. Women are being given more equal rights in order to tackle male dominance in our society; with The Guardian telling us that “in the US, for the first time, in 2011, women made up slightly more than half the workforce.” [3] Granted, we still have a long way to go – but we’ve been getting better. Slowly.

Although, just when the western world seems to take a positive step forward, it takes a monolithic step backwards. Right after America’s first African-American, Barrack Obama, completes two terms of a solid and admirable presidency, the people choose to replace him with a misogynistic, homophobic, narcissistic racist. With riots and protests sparking all over the continent, many of you are probably asking, “How did this even happen?” I’ve been asking the same thing.

BBC News reckons the success of his campaign was down to a number of factors. There was obviously his “white wave” of supporters. Then there was his charisma, which – like him or not – was so prominent (and so contrasting to Clinton’s) that any controversy he ignited was quickly snuffed out and forgotten. He was also an outsider – an underdog, almost – who trusted his own instincts against all the odds. But perhaps the biggest element was Clinton’s own questionable past. [4] One can’t help but wonder, however, if she would’ve been the lesser of two evils.

In the end, it makes no difference how Trump won. The fact that he will sit in the White House is clear evidence that he can sway the nation to follow him, whatever outrageous plans he has in store. Yet, while we (the British) can mock America’s decision with awe and bemusement for many months to come, are we really that much better? Even though it may have been slightly overshadowed by recent events, it wasn’t that long ago that 51.9% of our country (according to The Telegraph) voted to leave the European Union (EU). [5]

I’ll make this clear now: there shouldn’t have been a referendum in the first place. It was way too complex a decision for uneducated voters to make and few people truly understood what the consequences would be either way. Now, I voted to remain; I did this because I believed it was the only logical choice. But for those of you who voted to leave and are itching to start typing away in the comments section, please hear me out.

If you read George Bevan’s blog (and if you don’t, do! He’s a bit sweary, but makes a lot of sense) and you happened to come across EU Referendum: In or Out, you may have realised how much the EU actually does for us – and how much we take it for granted. Just a few things include easy access to a third of the world’s markets; cross-border policing to combat human trafficking, drug smuggling and terrorism; and for 60 years they’ve acted as “a foundation of peace between European neighbours after many years of bloodshed.” [6] In my view, we have too much to lose by leaving.

Having said that, I have to respect the views of those who supported Brexit. I’ve thought about this a lot, and I’ve done my best to look at the situation from both perspectives. I must say, I’ve heard some valid arguments from work colleagues about the benefits of Brexit. Points like being able to trade with the EU under our own terms, rather than theirs. Assuming we can negotiate it, this would be brilliant – because it would work wonders for our economy further down the line. And this is still possible, even now. Unfortunately, it appears that the majority of citizens who voted to leave the EU didn’t do so for this reason.

Novelist and journalist, Will Self – who happens to be a former lecturer of mine – made a statement on Channel 4 News on the eve of this year’s referendum. As entertaining as it was to watch Will (a sweltering pot of sardonic commentary) beating heads with a spirited Brexit supporter, he did make one point that stood out above all the rest: “Not all Brexiters are racists. But almost all racists will be voting for Brexit.” [7]. A bit of a “steady on!” statement perhaps. What’s more, this is a fellow who doesn’t exactly have to highest levels of empathy when he’s trying to make a point. Though, on this occasion, he’s making a good one.

It saddens me to say this, but the overarching reasons why our country will be leaving the EU in around two years are the exact same reasons why Donald Trump will now President of the United States. Fear and hatred. Because – despite our attitudes towards things like sexuality, ethnicity, gender, climate change and so on having improved significantly over the last few decades – a huge segment of our society is still stuck in the dark ages. Unable or simply unwilling to accept change.

So what do we take from all this? Well for one, 2016 doesn’t seem like a year that most of us are going to look back on with pride any time soon. But are we doomed? While I chose to put it in the title, I should point out that “doom” isn’t exactly a word that gets used a lot nowadays (if Game of Thrones doesn’t even use it, you know it’s out of fashion). If, however, the real question is whether or not Donald Trump will turn out to be the worst president of all time, I cannot say.

Although I take an interest in politics from time to time, I don’t follow it nearly enough to be able to craft an informed conclusion. Then again, I don’t think anyone can. It’s just too early to tell. Will Trump follow through with his claims about immigration? Will the world’s economy and environment suffer because of his newfound power? Will his questionable values lead to an increase in terrorism and hate crime? Or will he surprise us all and actually be a good leader? I seriously doubt that last entry, but right now, there’s simply no way of knowing with complete certainty.

So, instead of dwelling on the uncertain future ahead of us, let’s take a page out of Monty Python’s Life of Brian, and look on the bright side of life. David Attenborough is still going strong and giving us another Planet Earth series. Physical books are still a thing, even after e-books tried to do away with them. And best of all, Star Wars is more prominent and epic than ever before.

The moral of the story is, try to stay positive! If you’re still feeling down about the way of the world this time next week, fear not. I’ll be here to provide you with a weekly fix of randomness to brighten up your day. As it seemed appropriate, this week has been about politics. But what will my next post be? A review of the latest theatre performance? My take on a popular film theory? A short story perhaps? Like Trump’s overall impact as president, only time will tell.

Thanks for reading through my first ever blog post. I’m sure there will be many more to come. Stay awesome, Internet. Until next time.

 

Sources

[1] http://time.com/3937766/us-supreme-court-countries-same-sex-gay-marriage-legal/

[2] https://www.home.barclays/citizenship/our-approach/diversity-and-inclusion.html

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/sep/29/women-better-off-far-from-equal-men

[4] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-us-2016-37918303

[5] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/06/23/leave-or-remain-eu-referendum-results-and-live-maps/

[6] https://glwtf.net/page/3/ [It’s his first post. Scroll to the bottom)

[7] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DLpWU46USbo (about 4 mins 53 seconds in)