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.