Sometime during Brexit, or perhaps just after, I realised that I can’t change the world. My home town is very Brexity and very right wing. Nothing will alter that. Not even now. There is also more homelessness and poverty than I would like in my town. People just vote Tory and they don’t care. They look after themselves. It’s their right, I suppose, but there is a tide of cruelty, of cold-heartedness sweeping the UK, and it’s this which must be fought against if European Values are ever to be restored to our land.
In pre-Covid times, as I got off the bus every day, to walk through the streets to my place of work, I would find myself passing a few sorry looking crumpled sleeping bags in shop doorways, houses made of cardboard with freezing men sleeping alone in them, and people forgotten by the rest of us. It didn’t take long for this to register with me. It stopped being something I avoided thinking about, or ignored. It became something that I realised was a consequence of the very politics I raged against. I had been looking at the big picture while ignoring the vital details in front of my face.
I had been looking at the big picture while ignoring the vital details.
The homeless are at the bottom of the pile, spat out like a waste product by a selfish, privelage-oriented system we call The State. Now, the State isn’t necessarily a Conservative one. But right now it is, and under Conservative rule, it is worse. Westminster in London has the highest number of rough sleepers anywhere in the UK. Consider that for a moment. On the very footsteps of power, at the feet of The State, are it’s victims, in front of their very eyes.
While people celebrated Brexit in Westminster on that disgusting, booze-drenched night last January, the nearby food banks were getting ready for the next morning’s queues. As millions were spent on policing and organising the celebration and the fireworks, somewhere nearby in the shadows, The Forgotten waited.
In the shadows, The Forgotten waited.
Folk become homeless for all sorts of reasons, and since I started trying to help them a bit, I realised that it could genuinely happen to literally anyone. We are all one personal disaster away from being alone, one financial crisis away from being homeless, one redundancy away from being destitute.
Nobody is immune.
People at the most cruel end of this spectrum are rough sleepers, visibly homeless. The rest find themselves cruising hotel rooms, bedding down on friends’ sofas, or haunting B&B’s like the polar opposite of happy travellers who do the same.
Haters gonna hate, as they say on the internet.
Now, back to Brexit and it’s effect on me. I realised as a result of that shit show, that I cannot change the world, or even change anyone’s mind on any political issue, ever. Haters gonna hate, as they say on the internet. But then I thought, maybe I missed the whole point? Maybe protesting and marching and activism isn’t meant to change the world; maybe it’s meant to change me? And it did. I realised, as I walked passed these cardboard houses and frozen sleeping bags, that it was in my gift to make changes, not perhaps on the large scale I’d envisaged, but on smaller, more real levels.
I realised that none of us can fix the world, but we can fix somebody’s world. We can, for a brief moment, improve life for a friend or a stranger. We can give a hungry man a snack. We can afford our fellow humans a simple things which we take for granted. Just a bit.
Now there’s ways of doing this, and ways of not doing it. One does not simply roam the streets handing out money to rough sleepers. For one thing, that would not be safe, and moreover many homeless are not rough sleepers, and can’t be found in the streets.
As I researched the issue I found a local homelessness charity who had all the right skills, knowledge and resources to help people, and I tried my best to help this charity by asking what they need me to donate, and doing whatever I can. I organised a big collection of ceriel bars at my work because I was told that ceriel bars are good for people who don’t have ovens or fridges.
A few months later I found the same for Pot Noodles and I collected a bunch of those. My son was with me when I went into a pound shop and bought as many Pot Noodles as I could carry. He asked, “Why are you doing that?”. I simply said, “I want to help. Some people have nothing.” My son smiled, and I could see him computing what I had said. I saw in his eyes that he got it. “Good, Daddy,” he said. “Good.”
Then, a month or so later, the pandemic came. I was powerless. I couldn’t visit the homeless centre. I couldn’t collect food.
At this point in my life, I was dealing with some serious shit of my own. My mother was dying of cancer and I was going through a cancer scare of my own (turned out later to be false alarm, thankfully), all worsened by long delays in medical appointments and being stuck at home. My mental health was degrading, work was stressing me out, and I was finding parenting very hard. But still, even then, I knew I was living a life many could only dream of. My serious shit, serious though it was, had the luxury of being serious in a home whose bills I could pay.
Unable to collect/drop off food, I gave occasional money donations to this charity (and still do). I also became aware of food bank collections in my local supermarket, and made it a habit to donate every time I shop (and still do). It feels right. It feels like I am being who I am supposed to be. It gives me a genuine sense of perspective and appreciation.
We are the lucky ones.
At Christmas time, I went nuts. A local group was asking people to donate one shoe box full of helpful things for homeless people. A snack, some toiletries, a torch, etc. Well I thought no, that’s not good enough. Everyone can do more than one shoe box of basics. So I spent somewhere near £150. I bought 10 boxes (bigger than shoe-boxes) and filled them as much as I could with useful things. I got my wife and children to help me. The lady who collected them off me was a wonderful soul, and she restored my faith in humanity a little bit, I must say. I told her about the charity I’d been helping and she was grateful to learn about it. I hope she can help them, too.
In this national time of crisis, it’s hard for everyone. We worry, we fret, we fear for our futures. But when most of us worry, fret and fear, we do so under a roof, with a computer or a mobile phone in our hands, and the central heating on, and a bed to lie awake in. We are the lucky ones. It is our duty as humans to help those less fortunate. None of us can change the world, but we can change one person’s world, if just for a day, or an hour. We can perhaps make a difference, for five minutes, to a friend or a stranger, to improve their world a little bit.
This is who we are; fellow humans. It’s important to remember, but oh so easy to forget.
And what are the government doing to house people during this deadly wave of a pandemic? Ask your MP. I dare you, just ask them.