You can’t go about your day in London without passing a homeless person and probably a lot more than one. It absolutely breaks my heart and with the weather getting colder and colder, it’s more important than ever to something about it. I have been wanting to volunteer with an organisation that looks after homeless people for months but it was the kinds acts of a few friends that finally spurred me into action. I have spent the evening contacting charities and hope to have a regular volunteer position in the next few days. For anyone that wants to join me, I will post details as soon as I have them.
The most sickening and upsetting part about it is the amount of people who walk past, seemingly unaffected, and go about their day. Homeless people are treated like a scourge, and ignored. Noone wants them there, they make us feel bad. They make us feel guilty.
I think a lot of people try to justify ignoring homeless people by relying on outdated preconceived ideas about how people end up on the street. They put it down to personal failure, drug addiction, or even personal choice but the real reasons people become homeless are much more complex. In fact, a relationship breakdown is one of the main causes of homelessness. Domestic violence, unemployment, mental health issues, sexual or physical abuse, lack of affordable housing, lack of support and crippling debts are all also high in the list.
In recent years, the success of the Facebook page, Humans of New York has done a great job of reminding us that homeless people are people too. They are just like you and I. Humans of New York, in case you are not familiar, is a photo project. People from all walks of life are photographed and their pictures accompanied by a quote or anecdote. Some are funny, some are extremely sad, some are real eye-openers and all of them are real stories about real people. The people behind HONY do a beautiful job of capturing all facets of life and many more “Humans of …” pages are popping up all over the net.
This graffitti artist in LA draws homeless people’s dream homes.http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/16/graffiti-artist-homeless-dreams-skid-robot-photos_n_5991808.html
Homelessness in the UK
The most recent figure I could find is that on any given night in the UK, about 2,414 people are sleeping rough. And numbers are increasing. This figure doesn’t include anyone sleeping in shelters or with family or friends. This is the number of people out in streets. However, it is very difficult to calculate the actual number of people without a home and research suggests up to 62% of homeless people are “hidden” and will not show up in official figures.
There are an estimated 400000 “hidden homeless” in London.
Its enrages me to think that such a huge number of people sleeping rough are ex-military. People who have risked their lives for their country are disregarded when they get home. Many suffer from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and other health issues caused by their time in service and many more have problems with drugs and alcohol. It is estimated that up to 100 veterans sleep rough every night in London. What does that say bout our society?
How you can help
Not everyone has the time to volunteer, but you can always do something small to help. Buy someone sleeping rough a coffee, tea or even some hot soup. Donate spare blankets, sleeping bags and flasks. Donate shoes and socks, jackets and warm clothes. No one should be sleeping rough, especially in this weather.
If you DO have time to volunteer here are some great organisations you can contact and see what you can do in your area;
Shelter from the Storm; http://www.sfts.org.uk/volunteer/
Streets of London ; http://www.streetsoflondon.org.uk/about-homelessness
Chorlton Mad Dogs; these guys are in Manchester. They collect donated food and cook up hot meals and deliver them to homeless people all around the city. You can follow them on Facebook or Twitter.
Anyone could end up on the streets. Some of us are lucky enough to have friends and family that are in a position to support us when we fall on hard times and the means to pick ourselves back up again. I have been fortunate enough to get a good education which makes me more employable and makes job application forms more manageable. I speak fluent English. I have appropriate interview clothes and skills. I didn’t do a single thing to earn these privileges but benefit from the every day.
A poll of 2,000 UK adults we commissioned in December 2013, found that 32% of people have experienced homelessness (including sofa surfing and staying with friends) or know someone who has experienced homelessness. 14% had experienced it themselves, 20% knew someone else who had experienced it, 2% said they had both experienced it and knew others who had. – (homeless.org.uk)
Be thankful for what you have and help out those less fortunate than you whenever you can.
As most of you probably know, I am a huge fan of Russell Brand. Huge. It’s the main reason I moved to London actually, to track him down and make him fall in love with me………
Anyway, Russell Brand has a new(ish) YouTube series called The Trews(True News) which I discovered a few months ago in which he analyses newspapers and news broadcasts and sheds some light on the political and economic agendas behind the mainstream media and urges his viewers to question the information they are given. Kind of like Karl Pilkington’s “Bullshit Man”. The most recent episode of The Trews is what inspired me to write this post. In a few of the more recent episodes of The Trews, Russell has called for people to become more active in their communities and to go out and demand that the people in power do better. In today’s episode, Russell meets with a group of women who have been made homeless and as a result decided to occupy perfectly habitable houses which have just been abandoned. When they were made homeless, these London women were told there was housing available for them in cities like Manchester and Birmingham- miles away from their homes and families. Rather that accept this, they have begun to protest and speak out against what they call “social cleansing”. One woman, Jo, put it perfectly when she said “I think that it’s a basic human right that we have social housing and affordable housing. Why should we be pushed out of the area because it’s become gentrified and trendy?”
You can watch the whole thing here; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAjCiXwP46w
The media and government would like to have you believe that many working class people are apathetic towards politics, and that lack of education means they are ignorant. These women prove that is not only untrue but also a very unfair assumption. They were being treated unjustly and unfairly and decided to do something about it. Why doesn’t this happen more often? In recent news though, we are seeing a rise in stories where civilians are becoming more active the issues in their communities. In Ferguson, the riots after the murder of Michael Brown. In Taiwan, the amazing Sunflower Student Movement, which I was lucky enough to witness. And of course, most recently The Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong.
So, it got me thinking about activism in general. It is something I have come across a few times recently while reading articles online and searching for a new job in London. What do you think of when you think about activists? My mind usually conjures up images of suffragettes, students in the 70’s with flowers in their hair, Greenpeace and PETA and people like Martin Luther King. But perhaps a more local and small scale view makes more sense!
Volunteering is just one way to get involved in your community, activism is a whole other ball game.
This might seem like somewhat of a random post, but I do think that activism and volunteerism are related. You see something in your, or someone else’s community, and you want to do something about it. Just my thoughts and I am interested to hear yours!