It was a warm and sunny day.  I had just arrived at Waterloo station to meet a good friend of mine for a long overdue catch up over lunch.  As I walked down the steps of the station entrance, a familiar sight beheld me.  Sitting quietly, a man in his forties, watching the bustle of people as they went about their business.  He had a piece of card informing passers by that he was homeless, hungry and grateful for any help.  Homelessness is on the increase.  Government statistics in January 2018 revealed that in 2017, an estimated 4,751 people slept on the streets in England.  That’s an increase of 15% on the previous year.  It’s not just England and the UK.  I see homeless people in every country I travel to with my work as cabin crew. Causes of homelessness

Causes of homelessness

It is very easy to generalise as to the reasons why someone may find himself or herself as homeless.  The figure of 4,751 refers to people sleeping rough, but what about those in temporary accommodation such as shelters or hostels and those relying on sofas of friends and families?  The problem is bigger than we can imagine.  Relationship breakdowns are often cited as the reason for being homeless but does it go deeper than that.  We all face the challenges in our lives differently.  People that are dealing with mental health issues, poor health, drug and alcohol dependency, bereavement, domestic and sexual abuse and experience of the care and or judicial system are more vulnerable.  Factor in other circumstances such as poverty and lack of education and we begin to see how easily someone can fall into the vicious cycle of homelessness.  Another issue observed from my travels to the States is veterans struggling to readapt to life as a civvy, lacking the support of the nation that they put their lives at risk for.

What can we do?

It is a simple fact of life that we cannot individually help everyone, every time we see them sleeping rough.  Collectively though we can make a difference.  I can’t begin to imagine how it must feel to be on the streets, begging for money so that I can survive another day.  How must it feel to be ignored by so many people passing you by?  Are they judging you; pretending you are not there?  On the day I described at the beginning, I knew that I was going to have a lovely afternoon enjoying good food and wine with a very dear friend of mine.  I felt the impulse on this occasion to do something for the man who I stopped to chat to.  I’ll call him Sam.  I asked Sam if he would like a sandwich and a drink.  He didn’t ask for much or anything fancy.  I popped back to the station and bought him what he asked for and then went back to chat to him.  He told me that he had separated from his wife and fallen on hard times thereafter.  He had made his way to London a few weeks before and was struggling to get back on his feet.  I asked if he had access to shelter and his response was he needed over £20 for a hostel.  I realised as I looked on my Smartphone, just how much we rely on our devices.  I was able to do some research and give him some alternatives.  This is more challenging without easy access to the Internet.  I am not telling you this to seek praise.  I have passed many homeless people without even looking at them.  This particular experience made me think about the impact of just even saying hello to someone and acknowledging their existence.  That doesn’t cost anything.  It’s as simple as apologising for not having any spare change.  Since the introduction of contactless pay including with our phones, more and more of us walk around without any cash at all!  That’s why I offered to buy Sam something to eat and drink.  I had no money on me!  Having a conversation with someone can improve his or her self-worth through a very difficult time.

Other great ways to help are to donate things other than money.  Personal hygiene is important to us all and the homeless are no different.  Complimentary toiletries from hotel stays, such as hand moisturisers can be carried easily and will be gratefully received for dry cracked skin during the harsh winter months.  Other items you can give include sanitary packs for women, socks, gloves, scarves, blankets, t-shirts and other such unwanted items.  In the UK we have stores where new items of clothing can be purchased for as little as £2.  These items can be given directly to individuals or to your local shelter.  We all have unwanted items that we can donate.

Breaking the cycle

In my next blog, I will discuss the complexities of breaking the cycle of homelessness as well as look at the options of support available in The UK.  In the meantime, if we all made an effort to engage with just one person on the street in any given day, we can make a difference to them.  After all, there before the grace of God, go I!


About the author: Stuart Dickson

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