Topic #128 from the WordPress DailyPost prompt blog- “Should You Help Homeless People?”
By a series of happy accidents, helping homeless people became my work about 12 years ago. I’m no longer directly involved at the face, but I’m there in the background oiling the wheels. So I come from a different kind of place to most people. That’s not about me being better or cleverer (in fact, some of my greatest learning comes from the perspectives of people outside our field, and my first reaction on seeing this prompt was wondering what other bloggers might write about). But I did want to join in with this.
My help – and that of the people who work with me – comes from a place of structure and order and monitored support. We help by providing a home for up to two years, with part of the deal being that our young clients engage with us and take responsibility for their own journey to having a settled and stable future. We do what we can to support them on that journey.
What I should perhaps do now is to include a link to our online giving page and tell you that if you donate to us, we’ll do all of the work for you and you can count that as your ‘help’.
But questions like this are a little more complex (and I’m here in my downtime and never intended my blogging to become connected with my work).
There have been a couple of things dealing with homelessness on mainstream UK television recently. One is that an old character from Coronation Street (our longest-running soap) cropped up again recently having become homeless. Another individual took him in, gave him a bath and a shave, miraculously produced a new suit in exactly his size in the middle of the night and walked out the following morning with him back to an older version of his former self in the space of two half-hour episodes. It doesn’t work like that.
The other TV programme is about celebrities with no previous experience of homelessness ‘adopting’ a homeless person, welcoming them into their home and helping them to move forward with their lives. And of course, what it’s really about is using those very chaotic and difficult lives to create great peak time telly. I’m not watching it.
For most people, homelessness is a fairly distant possibility, and the realities aren’t really imaginable; most people have safety nets in the form of family and friends, most people have the wherewithal – or someone close who does – to claim benefits, exercise their rights, find a home if they need one and get back on their feet even when something really difficult hits them.
During the course of my career, I’ve worked with many hundreds of homeless people. Each of them has his or her own story of how they came to be there.
I’ve never once met a homeless person who simply didn’t have a home.
I would expect that, in any project of our type, there will be amongst its clients young people who’ve experienced life in the care system, family breakdowns, depression and other mental health issues, sexual or emotional abuse, significant close bereavement, parents who throw them out in favour of younger children from a newer relationship, people who cut themselves, people who are beaten up by fathers and stepfathers who never learned to deal with their own anger, people who simply have nowhere and no-one that makes them feel loved or wanted or in any way important.
And, perhaps not surprisingly because sometimes people look for something to numb the difficult times, people who’ve been addicted to drugs or alcohol or some other pursuit that’s given them a short-term respite and a greater burden to recover from.
I’ve known boys move into our project and sleep on the floor of their room because they’ve never slept in a bed.
I’ve known girls whose earliest memory is the sight of their mother injecting heroin into the back of her knee because she’s run out of places in her arm.
These aren’t ordinary lives. Their problems aren’t the ordinary stuff of youth.
And they’re not solved easily by brief encounters of even the most well-meaning of help.
But when we work together, we can be a community that can be proud of doing our best to help the most vulnerable people among us.
There are economic reasons for that, of course, and lots of arguments that are very convincing and simply based on the fact that if we don’t help the people at the bottom of the heap that will eventually feed through to more crime and anti-social behaviour. Some of that does resonate with me.
But if we forget about the economics and consider what ‘helping homeless people’ might mean for any one of us who actually just wants to help another human being…
I think that we’re better together. I think that if there’s a homeless project in your community, you might want to offer something in a small way to help them out; pass on clothes or blankets if you’re changing yours, see if they have a volunteer programme that you could get involved with, look out for their appeals and offer whatever you feel able to, send the staff a note to let them know you appreciate what they’re doing for the community (and I can tell you a trade secret – we don’t get things like that very often and they always make us cry!).
If you don’t have a homeless project in your community, but you do have homeless people, perhaps seek out others who could help in some small way and consider what you might achieve together.
There’s another reason why you might want to consider helping homeless people. This is the one that we talk about least, I think. When you help someone, it feels amazing. It’s not about appreciation or gratitude; it’s something about just knowing that you’ve walked with someone a little way on a journey that might continue to be difficult for many years to come. That you’ve made a contribution to someone else’s future. That you might have helped to mend a pain that could otherwise have become more difficult to contend with.
We always celebrate Christmas together each December with a Christmas lunch and a few small gifts donated by our supporters. Every year there’s always at least one person who tells us that it’s the best Christmas they’ve ever had.
Occasionally, someone will come back – sometimes months or years letter – and reflect on how we helped them to turn their lives around. That, for even a short time, we helped them to understand what it might feel like to feel part of a family. That their time with us was the very first time in their life that they felt cared for and that they belonged.
Helping isn’t always just a one way street; it’s a privilege, often, to do what we do.