Monday, 4 March 2013
22:33 | Posted by Caz | Edit Post
This weekend we have been in London. We love London and have been there for many a weekend away these last seven years together. We love the buzz, the pace, the tube, the variety of things to do, something new every time and the very different atmosphere to home. Our favourite place to mini-break.
This time, it was the first weekend we have ever left Alexander, only leaving him for a 12 hour over-nighter previous to this. The feelings driving away from him, knowing we weren't returning for a whole 48 hours, weren't dissimilar to those feelings back in October 2010 when we went away for the first time after Anabelle. Slighty anxious, slightly guilty, feeling a little bit like we were abandoning him like I had felt we were abandoning Anabelle. I felt teary as we drove towards the Severn Bridge; the way his little hands had waved bye bye to us, smiley and happy and completely unaware we weren't coming home for two nights.
Of course it was different though. I knew Alexander was happy (and spoilt) at his Grandparents, secure and safe and getting plenty of attention. When we 'left' Anabelle all I could think of was her unattended graveside for a week and her in the ground all alone, being away left us feeling a long way away from her. Guilt. She didn't need us anyway (oh how hard that is to acknowledge), but it felt like abandonment all the same. Different.
However it is safe to say that we pined for Alexander far more than he pined for us, if at all! We returned from London expecting a little boy very excited to see us, instead he was very "Meh, so what, you're back, what is the fuss!" about it all. This is good, it means he wasn't upset without us, but a bubbly reunion might have been nice! He enjoyed his new toys though, so that is something!
This weekend in London we have spent time in Covent Garden and Leicester Square, we have watched The Lion King Musical (amazing!), wined, dined and cocktailed in The Living Room off Regent Street, we have been to the Harry Potter Studio Tour (also amazing!) lots of lovely things. Its been refreshing to spend some quality time together Jon and I.
But amongst all the spoiling ourselves in London, a moment on Saturday morning deeply affected Jon and myself. Saturday morning we encountered homelessness.
Walking down a street in the Covent Garden area we were approached by a man, dressed smartly, in clean jeans, shiny leather shoes, a smart jacket and expensive headphones asking us for help, for monetary change for travel. We declined his request, both commenting to each other that it seemed an odd request for somebody who was seemingly so well off.
Then about 150 yards on from this smart man I spotted another man. Hidden around a corner, behind a pillar. A man in a much more desperate state, not looking for attention or begging for change, infact trying to hide in this filthy corner. Trying to hide under a flimsy sleeping bag, on a floor lined with a thin piece of cardboard.
We felt deeply moved by his plight. He was the one we offered our change too, even though he wasn't asking for it. We offered him our change and walked away; towards the main Covent Garden area and market. Change didn't feel enough.
What a desperate desperate position to be in. When your 'home' is a filthy, smelly corner of London and you obviously haven't had a shower in weeks, months maybe. When comparatively wealthy people walk on by oblivious that you are even there. Desperate.
We walked on for five minutes; but felt compelled to turn around and return to the man, who was now completely hidden under his sleeping bag, trying to be inconspicuous. We returned because a handful of change didn't feel enough. We asked him his name; Joseph, and handed him £20 and told him to get himself warmed up and fed. Enough we hoped to feed him at least for that day, maybe the next and buy him a hot drink or two.
We could have chosen to by cynical and walked on by. We could have chosen to have the attitude you so often hear that the money we were offering might have been spent on alcohol or drug addictions. Instead we chose to notice Joseph and try and show him that we cared about him and his situation in the small way we could. We chose to believe he would use the money in the spirit it was intended.
£20; so little to us in the grand scheme of things but Joseph was so grateful for the hand outstretched. He said for God to bless us in his gratitude; but instead I quietly asked for God to bless him, to provide his basic needs and a protecting hand. Maybe it was just something to say in thanks for Joseph, but in this instance we were not the ones that needed blessing. We felt ashamed and angry that all we could do for Joseph there and then was offer him money. Short term help rather than a long term fix. £20 wasn't going to solve Joseph's problems, but we just hoped it could make him a little more comfortable just for today.
I felt ashamed because I've so often moaned about our living conditions or that we feel 'poor'. Moaned about our house that we have outgrown and ready to move on from but stuck by the current housing market. Coming face to face with Joseph sleeping rough put all our accommodation 'problems' and money moans into perspective. It may be small, but it is home, it is warm and comfortable and a roof over our head. We do not need to worry where the next hot meal is coming from or when our next cash handout will be. How fortunate are we.
Since coming home I've tried to find out a little bit more about homelessness in the UK. Crisis is a charity dedicated to ending homelessness. Homelessness comes in many forms; from the person sleeping on a friends couch to a person like Joseph sleeping rough on our streets.
I was astounded, maybe naively, to learn that in 2012 approximately 5678 people slept rough on London's streets. I also learnt that the average life expectancy of a person sleeping rough is 47 and that they are 35% more likely to commit suicide than the rest of the population. People living on the street are more likely to be victims of violence. People sleeping rough hide away because they are frightened, which leads to them becoming more and more isolated and unreachable. 88% of people sleeping rough on London's streets are male, large proportions do indeed have dependency issues on drugs or alcohol, large proportions have mental health issues, have been in prison, care and the armed forces. Some of the most vulnerable people and society has failed them. It is so easy to assume that a homeless person equals addiction. It is important to remember that being homeless isn't always a symptom of an addiction; people find themselves homeless for a whole host of reasons, infact the biggest cause of homelessness is relationship breakdown. Being homeless could happen to any one of us.
I dread to think how huge the problem is around the UK.
In Newport, A Churches Together project tries to meet the need of some of our homeless people by providing a night shelther at churches across the city. If we had met Joseph in Newport I would have known somewhere to refer him to via the Council or Police etc, somewhere he could be kept warm and safe for the night. But we were in London, far away from The Night Shelter project at home.
Joseph is just one of approximately 5678 people, just in London, who call the streets their 'home'. What an obscene figure. Since returning home from London my mind keeps popping to Joseph, hoping he's safe. Hoping somehow somebody will reach him who can really help him.
This is Joseph and this photograph was taken with his permission. Please keep him in your prayers.
- After Anabelle - Raising Rainbows. I'm Caz, Mummy to beautiful angel Belle and my wonderful rainbow boys, Xander, Zachy and Luc. Wife to Jon. Twitter @cazem Instagram @cazzyem
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