Homelessness Is Not A Lifestyle Choice

Image of Homeless Man
 Nobody wants to be homeless, fact.

I walked my dogs today, it was a cold, windy 3 degrees out. I had on a warm coat, woollen hat, thermal leggings and waterproof boots. Despite this, I still felt the nip of winter. Earlier this year my boiler stopped working and I went a few days without hot water. I will never take the luxury of a hot shower for granted again. I just cannot fathom what it’s like to sleep rough especially at this time of year.

By and large, people do not choose homelessness. There are a myriad of reasons why a person ends up on the streets; redundancy and relationship breakdown. Alcohol/Substance addiction, domestic and or sexual abuse. Ironically, one tragic circumstance leading to another, from frying pan to fire.

One homeless story in particular has always stuck with me;

 A boy at private boarding school, the abuse started when he was seven. He suffered years of horrific sexual abuse at the hands of several teachers. Nobody knew and nobody helped him. At twelve he began self medicating with alcohol and drugs.  Expelled at fifteen and rather than face his parents, chose to run away and live on the streets. By seventeen, he was prostituting himself to support a heroin addiction.
He remained homeless and an addict until he was thirty years old. Until one day, while begging outside a store, a wee boy walked past with his mum. But the boy turned and broke free from his mum’s hand. He ran over to the man and hugged him, and said “I’ve no money, but I can give you a hug. You look like you need one”.
The hug changed everything, in that moment something clicked. He noted that the boy was roughly the same age as he when the abuse started. And this wee lad reflected the life he could have had. From that day forward he chose to take back control and get clean. Now happily married, he works as an abuse and addiction counsellor. He also found the courage to speak out about his abuse and two of the men who abused him were convicted. The third committed suicide before the case came to trial.
Having had a few difficult situations of my own, I know things could have turned out very differently. Because of that, I’ve always tried to empathise with those less fortunate than myself. Every time I pass a homeless person on the street, I think of that man and the fact that one random act of kindness can change a person’s life.
People’s reaction to homelessness varies and it is easy to judge. Addicts or not, it doesn’t matter, look past the stigma and see the person. Try to imagine the circumstances that reduced them to begging for our spare change.  People often won’t give them money for fear they will waste it buying drugs or alcohol. Waste? No one bats an eyelid at giving a fiver to a company that dodges paying their taxes in return for an overrated cup of coffee.

According to Crisis Scotland there are now 11,800 people either sleeping rough, living in hostels or unsuitable accommodation. A study showed there was one person begging every 75 metres along the so-called Style Mile which takes in Argyle Street, Buchanan Street and Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow. That’s 22 homeless people in a single mile. And it’s no different on the streets of Edinburgh and Aberdeen. Crisis Scotland predict that homelessness will rise by more than 53% in the next twenty-five years.

It will soon be Christmas and the cynics (and believe me, there is nobody more cynical than me) would say, that this is just guilty white privilege talking and know what, they are right. Clichés aside, if you are relatively trouble-free with a roof over your head, food on the table and clothes on your back, that’s privilege.  We have become a greedy, wasteful society where everything is dispensable, including people. It’s easy to discard what doesn’t concern you and this is part of the problem. Money talks and if you don’t have it, nobody hears you.

To quote Fight Club “we buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like”.

Homeless people are not to be feared and contrary to common myth are not swindlers trying to con you out of a couple of quid. They are just people trying to survive who have had more than their fair share of the shitty stick. Unpleasant truths make us feel uncomfortable, nobody likes admitting their own flaws. But fessing up and doing something is a win – win.

Don’t want to give the person money, buy them something hot to eat instead. Rather than walking past and bluntly saying NO, make eye contact, smile and say HELLO. Many homeless people say they feel insignificant, invisible and lonely. Don’t worry, they’re not going to come home and live with you but you will have made them feel human. It could be the only contact they’ve had in weeks. A kind word costs nothing. Not a talker, no problem, leave the money and when you do, just smile. If any of those don’t appeal, you could always give a homeless kit to a local charity.

Now I’m not saying we should give up all our worldly possessions, shave your head, wear orange robes and live in a cave high in the Himalayas (mind you, it has its appeal). What I am saying is that whether it’s once a year or once a month, it never hurts to think of others. Perhaps you already do and my sanctimonious preaching is getting right on your tits. Either way I don’t care, if everybody that could, did, can you imagine the difference it would make? We would all do well to remember circumstance doesn’t discriminate and homelessness could happen to any of us.

I do my bit, but know I could always do more. So I’m off to purchase some affordable winter goodies. I’ll be nagging my family and friends to contribute to the homeless kits which in turn I will handover to a local shelter.

The world doesn’t get better by chance, it gets better by change.

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