Honeybuns, there is something you can do

It is a societal moral code turned on its head. Stunned and baffled, I am also one of those who see the people sleeping on the streets and walks on thinking, hoping, that someone is looking after them. That is what our taxes are for, after all. And yet, deep down we all know the structures that once looked after our most vulnerable have buckled. Who, then, is responsible for them?

Sometimes it takes one person to make the difference. Paddy was that person for me. He and his scraggy, kind old dog Gerard were based every evening at Leicester Square tube (exit 1), and for the past two years we met every week on my way home from choir. They were a familiar sight to all the locals, and during our conversations people would stop to pass the time of day. Paddy loved the fact that I sing at St Martin-in-the-Fields, and like clockwork would brush off my concerns, instead asking with a twinkle in his eye: “But did you sing well tonight?”

When I learned of his death from his son, I realised I couldn’t keep walking by. Modern society let Paddy down, and he died of cold on the streets. His son Patrick, now an orphan, in some kind of ugly twist of tradition, has inherited his father’s pitch, his dog, his tent … his homelessness.

My fury seeped rapidly into hopelessness and helplessness. There are so many battles to fight right now. It’s hard to know what to do as a citizen that will make a difference. And yet, there are ways to help, and foremost is arming ourselves with information. We need to know what we can do, who we can turn to, what actually helps.

And we need to turn to each other. Which is how, with the help and support of friends, I was able to channel my grief into something positive: an event called Sod This (for a laugh)!, to raise awareness and a good bit of money for two charities working to combat rough sleeping.

That something being taking a rough sleeper into your home and setting them on the road to reintegration with society. Because with a home address then you can start to find work and that’s how the process works.

And before you ask yes, yes I have. As should you if this is indeed something that you care about.

So, get on with it woman, just get on with it.

23 comments on “Honeybuns, there is something you can do

  1. The sad fact is that a lot of those people who fall between the cracks have problems that are extremely difficult to solve, either by the state or private individuals. That a habitually homeless person has a glint in their eye and makes nice remarks doesn’t mean anything in itself; you might as well say that John Wayne Gacy was good at clowning around.

    It’s hard to know what to do with people who’s mental health makes them incapable of functioning in a modern society. Even if you provide a place for them to stay, you can’t force them to use it or abide by the rules. It’s difficult, and I imagine anyone bringing a lifelong homeless person into their own home (meaning, not somebody who has simply fallen on hard times) would find this out pretty quickly.

  2. Father and son are on the streets. And son inherited the Father’s pitch?

    How old is the son? And even if he is a kid it is hardly likely that his Father was taking care of him while being homeless himself.

    The poor old dog bit nearly got me tho’.

  3. Try submitting a post on the Graun’s site criticising her for her faux anguish at allowing her ‘friend’ to die on the streets and then wailing that ‘someone’ should have done something and it gets modded.

    Free speech must be defended from people who have different views from their own.

    Truly pathetic.

  4. What proportion of homeless people on the street are fakes? My intuition is no help here: I have no idea. It would be a good study for a sociologist so it will never be done.

  5. Well, dearieme, a data point could be found in a pub in Green Lanes, Haringey, a few years back. Whole crew of datapoints & quite affluent crew it was. Considering its members were otherwise spotted huddled in West End doorways, wrapped in grubby blankets with their hands out.

  6. ‘That is what our taxes are for, after all.’

    No. Government is to provide for the general welfare, not specific welfare. But Susannah feels excused from helping because she pays taxes. Poor conservatives give more to charity than wealthy liberals.

  7. Dear Mr Worstall

    I heard a story once that the homeless in a part of London were collected up and tidied away into newly refurbished social housing. Within weeks or months the properties were trashed and the people back on the street. There is little one can do for the voluntary homeless, short of making it illegal or treating them more like livestock than we already are.

    From a practical view point, dogs are a great prop for beggars, attracting higher donations. They are also very companionable, and possibly help when the weather is cold.

    Our local homeless man lives in the woods, using a bus shelter in exceptionally bad weather. A few years ago he was provided with accommodation, though whether he uses it, I do not know.

    DP

  8. Mr Ecks,

    I find the “father and son” thing weird.

    The problem of the real homeless is frequently about mental health, and most of them are estranged from their families. This sounds like a fake to me.

  9. I know a number of the local homeless. Several have had multiple properties, most have spent time in a shelter before being kicked out and two will never pass risk assessment to get into a shelter.

    Getting them a property is the easy part. Getting them to stay there is much, much harder.
    Someone who is used to drinking lots of alcohol a day getting a place within a ‘dry’ facility – they will smuggle in drink. Or come in drunk.

    The problems of homelessness are complex and not solved for a lot of the homeless by simply giving them a place to live.
    Its one of these issues where the solution has to be very much individual.

    Not helped at all by those who think the solution is an easy one.

  10. Anecdata gets dismissed a lot in debate (not round here as much), but it often gives valuable insight beyond the figures. Thanks for that, Martin.

  11. “…taking a rough sleeper into your home…”

    Oh no, dear me, that’s not what she means at all: “raise awareness and a good bit of money for two charities”

    It’s someone else who actually has to do something, of course; our heroine merely wants to make a noise about it and show us how righteous she is.

  12. My own observation, culled from the time I worked at a homeless shelter (and did a bit of intake as part of my job), is that about 75% of the shelter’s residents were either suffering from some form of mental illness, some degree of substance abuse/addiction, or both.

  13. Out of genuine, non-snarky interest, what about the other 25%?

    Did they let on to you much why they were there?

  14. One of the few drawbacks of Tory governments over red ones is that visible homelessness does increase.

    Personally I give £20 a month to Shelter. I hope it is useful and doesn’t go into excessive staff salaries. There, but for the grace of God, go I and all that.

  15. @Street Sparrow: the annoying thing about homeless charities is a lot of their focus seems to be on making the government build more housing. I also donate but I would rather they think of things to do outside of “moar government”.

  16. The other 25% were mostly comprised of the following:

    Those who chose to be homeless but were in the shelter temporarily due to something… Health issues, weather etc.

    Those who were transitioning out of prison.

    Overall numbers are for males only. Females had additional issues (abuse and children) to contend with. Our shelter was segregated by sex, and all of the women with children were at a separate location. Given that, I can’t really speak to the numbers for females, although it was clear that mental health and drug issues were widespread.

  17. The thing with the ‘women and children’ shelters thing, is where is the line drawn between a male child offspring and a male non-child offspring that would destroy the whole point of a womens’ shelter being nominally the absence of males.

  18. Thanks DtP

    It’s one of those questions I’ve wanted answered for a while, but didn’t trust the usual politised sources to answer honestly (e.g. homelessness charities).

    In England, nearly all the homeless I’ve seen have been blokes, FWIW.

  19. I’ve been guilty of “I pay a lot of tax why should I need to give to charity” thinking and am not proud of it. In my defence it coincided with seeing a lot of the big charities, especially NSPCC and Shelter who I donated to in the give as you earn scheme, becoming political.

    Now I only give to local charities and that includes not sponsoring family and friends who do runs for fake charities.

  20. In England, nearly all the homeless I’ve seen have been blokes, FWIW.

    I think that is standard in the Western World. How that equates with our “patriarchal” societies is something that has intrigued me before.

    I think it is because while few rough sleepers are entirely voluntary, that they usually aren’t exactly working on solving the problem either.

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