The other side of the street.
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During Poverty and Homeless Action Week, support worker Donna Smith has used her creative talent to make us all stop and think. Drawing on experiences of her own and those of people that she has met, Donna has penned this wonderful, thought provoking piece.
I was never quite sure about the homeless people around my town.
There weren’t many and you hear so many things on the news about them not really being homeless. You know, things like they are all picked up in the morning and dropped off in town to sit and beg all day before going back to their luxury homes in the country. And others who said ‘have a look at their trainers, they are always designer ones' and ‘why do they always have a dog, how can they afford to feed it?'
What about their families; where are they? Surely there is someone who could put them up until they sort themselves out. It’s the same with the Big Issue, what is that all about? Are the people selling it making money for them or is it a big business that someone else profits from? So, like most of us I just walked by with all of my ignorance and judgements spinning round in my head and carried on with more important stuff like what was for dinner or what would I do at the weekend?
Then one day I noticed a group of people over the other side of the street, with their rolled up sleeping bags and bottles of cider, or something, laughing and chatting and right in the middle of the group there he was. My brother. It was definitely him and yet he too had a sleeping bag, what was he doing there? He had us, me and my sister and a mum, somewhere, who I am sure had cared about us all once upon a time. I had a home and a spare room and so did my sister, so what was he doing hanging around with such people. Why didn’t he come to us? They must have led him astray; he must be taking drugs, or drinking or something that has made him do this. It felt like I had just seen a total stranger, I know he had always struggled with life since mum abandoned us all but how had it come to this? Was it my fault, should I have done more, what should I do now, I felt really scared. If I went and spoke to him would they all attack me, would he ignore me, what would I say?
Luckily he noticed me first and came over to where I was standing. He was still my brother and I just wanted to hug him. He told me that things had got really bad; he had gone from one relationship to another until the last girl had also had enough of him and had thrown him out. He said that he could not do it any more. Anybody he came into contact with he would either hurt or let down. It felt good to be around people who were the same as him and who had no expectations of him. He also liked the fact that he had no responsibilities, no-one or nothing to answer to. He knew that if he had come to us, we too would eventually be disappointed in him and tire of his ways. He didn’t want our children to see him and realise what a failure he was. He said he was happy, relaxed and for the first time in his life, accepted.
He said that his trainers came from a lady who was dishing out clothes from a night shelter, he said he was lucky, they were like brand new, some rich kid must have ditched them for the latest design that had come out. He said the night shelters were good and he had been able to get food and a bed throughout the winter but still got to be free during the day to do whatever he wanted. He said that he wasn’t drinking, he doesn’t really like drink and he felt it best to keep sober if he wanted to survive on the streets. He just wanted to be there.
He said lots more things but I wasn’t really taking it in. I felt so confused and had absolutely no idea how to help him. I don’t think I can and I don’t really think he wants me to. He is obviously finding the things he needs at a time that is right for him. He is in control of his own life now and I think that is what he likes.
The only thing I can do and continue to do is to open my mind and stop making judgements about people and their situations just to ease my own conscience. And I know that if he does want me he will find me, but in his time, not mine.
If you are currently homeless or worried that you may become homeless you should contact your local council to see what help you may be eligible for. You can also use our interactive map to find a home via the Choice Based Lettings scheme in your area. To find out more about Choice Based Lettings, click here.
('Homeless dogs' image courtesy of danorth1)
('Smile' image courtesy of seanbjack)