This was said to me by someone we met today, and I can’t get the words out of my head.
A week ago…
Lauren told me of a homeless person on the train that was politely asking for change. She too out her headphones and was apologetic because she didn’t have any change. The lady smiled at her and said “that’s alright love, thanks for smiling and acknowledging me”.
When she told me (and even now as I write this) I had a knot in my stomach, I instantly thought “I’ve got to do something”. “It’s not right and I have to try to help”.
I’ve always felt bad walking past a homeless person, and when I think I have change I’ll sometimes walk past them, check my bag or wallet and if I find some, go back and hand it over. I feel sorry for them every time. And yes, I’ve ignored way more homeless people than I’ve given change to. I’ve kept my head down, put my headphones in and just ignored them, and I feel so sad about it now.
After talking all this out loud with Lauren I decided to make some food the following week, take it into town and hand out what I could to people. But also, if it transpired that way, talk to them about what else they could do with and find out how they got there.
I chose to make a couple of super nutritious sandwiches and buy a tonne of fruit from a farm shop that was “on the turn”, it was SUPER ripe and they always sell those off cheap. I had something like 20 bananas, 9 satsumas a few apples and a peach. The fruit cost me a fiver and the ingredients for the sandwiches probably less. I made 16 sandwiches total which I guess doesn’t sound a lot for the time it took me to make them. I think it’s because I chose particularly difficult fillings (see below, click for recipes):
Never the less, we ventured out this morning into Central London, Charing Cross to give out what we had.
I felt uncomfortable, awkward and nervous.
Who was I to give out fruit homemade sandwiches?
As if that made them any less homeless?
Was I been patronising?
After the giving out the first one to a man who looked in a really bad way, he smiled at me and was so grateful I almost cried.
It’s something so small but it’s more than a banana and a sandwich.
Hope that there’s good people out there that take notice and make an effort to help. Throughout the morning and early afternoon we dished all but one sandwich (which Lauren is giving to a homeless person near her work tonight). Some of the people we gave to, naturally struck up a conversation with us and we were able to learn more about them and what else they need.
What We Learnt
I’m not going to disclose their stories because that’s not mine to share, but suffice to say that any one of us could end up in their situation and it could happen very quickly, as did for them. I know this sounds really dumb, but they’re no different from us, we just have a roof over our heads and a bed to sleep in at night. They’re human too and for whatever situation they’ve hit rock bottom.
And they know it too.
This is what surprised me, many we spoke were so accepting of their situation, they knew they’d made this situation happen. They knew what they did wrong and what they could have done differently. Some felt it was their “karma”.
As I mentioned at the beginning, one person mentioned to us that the “world looks very differently from down here”. They gained a perspective of what humans are like and what they’re capable of. They even told us they’d been spat at twice, once at the ground right next to them and one time in the face(!). How absolutely unforgivable is that?!
They also mentioned there’s other homeless people around him that they wouldn’t socialise with, the drug addicts and alcoholics as well as people that were a bit “off the rails”. I can’t imagine how crazy that world must be.
I thought probably what you’re thinking too, how can you tell whether they’re going to spend what money you give them on drugs or food or alcohol?
Well, I guess you can’t. So after what I’ve learnt today I would probably ask what food or drink I could get them from the shop. Offering sustenance I think is the only way you’re going to know they’re not going to spend it on other things.
However, another thing I’ve learnt today is that the local shelter near them offers 28 days free accommodation when you first are homeless, after that you have to pay, I think, £16 a night or £25 for 2 nights. You’ll get food, a shower and they’ll wash your clothes.
I’m doing some investigation into what government help is out there because “apparently” there’s benefits for anyone homeless, which sounds like crap from what I can dig up so far.
What I’m Going To Do Next
When we were able to ask what else they could use, they said blankets, sleeping bags and a hot meal. Very often their sleeping bags and things get stolen so just something to keep them warm would help, especially going into winter.
Some of them had upset stomachs from the food they ate so a good hearty meal would no doubt do them and their stomachs good.
My next goal is to batch make a chunky soup or chilli (not spicy, because yeah that would do their stomachs good!) and take it into town with paper cups and bread for dipping. Giving out what we can that can warm them up. Also trying to find sleeping bags, coats and blankets that we can take too.
Coming to terms with the reality of their situations today was hard hitting, and not only makes me incredibly grateful for what I have, but also motivates me to do so much more.
I hope that this inspires you to do what you can to help the homeless.
Remember, they’re people too.