Homeless - Hungry and Homeless in the UK
Today, in the UK it is estimated that around 1 million people are homeless. It is often assumed by passers-by that they must be drug addicts, violent or alcoholics. I often see homeless people standing in all weathers in the street trying to sell "The Big Issue" to shoppers, the majority of which walk by. For anyone not familiar with the concept of The Big Issue, let me explain it.
The Big Issue - How it works
The Big Issue is a charity which produces a fortnightly magazine that is published and is available to the public to buy from authorised vendors. An authorised vendor is either a homeless person or is in vulnerable housing, and who has undergone checks to prove that they are indeed homeless or vulnerably housed. The vendors are vetted and have to sign a code of conduct, once they have satisfied the criteria required. They are issued with an authorised vendors badge and are given 5 free copies of The Big Issue to sell (10 copies if they are living in London) at a pitch which they are allocated. The magazine is sold for £2 per copy and they can buy further supplies for £1. The scheme was set up to help homeless people help themselves, build confidence and self-esteem, and provide them with a small income. Many vendors are successful, and by selling the magazine, can help them to make positive changes in their lives. Authorised vendors are given help and advice on housing, financial independence, health and aspirations.
When I lived in Scotland, I shopped at a local supermarket in the village. I got to know Robert, whom I always bought my copy of The Big Issue from. He was a lovely man, with a cheery disposition and always courteous and chatty. We always spent time chatting, before I had to dash off to unpack the shopping and pick the kids up on the school run. Robert was in his forties, well-spoken and never, ever complained, though he had every reason to. One day we got talking, and his story reduced me to tears. It made me realise that I should be grateful for what I have and stop moaning about trivial little things, when people like him were living rough and struggling to survive each day.
As he spoke, he told me that he had been married for nearly 20 years, and that the marriage had not been a happy one. He and his wife decided to separate and eventually divorce, and he moved out of the family home and into a bedsit. His ex-wife remained in their marital home with their two sons, who at the time were aged 14 and 10.
A few months later, Robert was made redundant from his job as a welder. Prior to this, he had been paying rent to his landlord, making monthly alimony payments to his ex-wife, and seeing his sons every other weekend. Losing his job was a major blow, he could no longer afford to pay the monthly maintainence payments for his children, and he fell into arrears on the rent payments. He was out looking for a job one afternoon, and returned to find an eviction notice had been posted on his door.
One week later, in mid-November 2000 he found himself on the streets with nowhere to go and no money. He slept in doorways and alleyways on the streets of Glasgow. During the summer of 2002, he found out about The Big Issue and contacted them. He passed the necessary checks and was authorised to sell the magazine. He found new confidence, and rather than begging for food, he was making enough money to feed himself each week. Around a year later, he found a small flat with the help of the charity, he was also offered a job in a food processing plant which he accepted. During the time that he had become homeless, he never had any contact with his children. When I asked him why, he said that he was ashamed of what he had become and didn't want his sons to see him this way. I never did see Robert again after that day and often wonder if he did ever get in touch with his sons, whom he always spoke about with great affection. I hope so, and hope his life worked out. If he was my Dad, I would be very proud of him and not ashamed as he seemed to think his family would have been.
Homelessness can happen to anyone at any time. It only takes one tragedy to strike and our lives can take a downward spiral. I vowed that I would never walk by my local Big Issue Vendor, as £2 could be the difference in whether someone will eat that day or not.
Charities which help the homeless
Shelter - www.shelter.org.uk
Crisis - www.crisis.org.uk (set up to help single homeless people)
Centrepoint - www.centrepoint.org.uk
Emmaus UK - www.emmaus.org.uk
Crash - www.crash.org.uk
Big Issue - www.bigissue.com
Barnardos - www.barnardos.org.uk
The Salvation Army - www.salvationarmy.org.uk
What we can do to help our homeless
Help for the homeless can be given in many ways:
Volunteer your time
Buy the Big Issue
There are homeless shelters throughout the UK, but many more are needed. Hundreds of buildings lie empty and could be put to good use in my opinion. It's difficult for homeless people to make a fresh start, get into employment, generally look after themselves while sleeping rough. Everyone deserves a chance in life, and the stigma attached to homelessness is unfair and often unjust. The next time you see a homeless person, think about how easy it would be to fall into this trap if life dealt you a cruel hand.