Homelessness and Poverty – Cruelty and The Cold in Pre-World War 3 Britain

 

A strange world, where you go on facebook and find people warning you not to give to the homeless.

Here’s the initial message, “Do not give any money to the so called homeless people outside Asda and around the town centre as they are not really homeless use the money for drugs and booze and also have mobile phones.”

That grammar isn’t my fault. I can understand readers who might try to link the poor grammar and the shitty attitude and conclude, well, people who hold those views must be dumb, cruel bastards, but its too early to make that assumption. One dumbass comment does not a trend make.

Can you imagine the heavy misery that must come from reading something like that as a homeless person while you grab a little charge in the local Starbucks?

Some other comments:

Wonder where they charge their phones up if they’re homeless?

I saw 2 of them getting out of a car last week

Definitely well fed because I work in Asda cafe & LOADS of people buy hot drinks & food for him!!

The subtext here, if you haven’t spotted it, is that these people are fakers and even if they aren’t fakers (because homeless people, when they lose their house, also have their phones confiscated and no longer ride in cars) they’re well fed anyway, so just leave them to it.

This is some of the attitude locally. How about nationally?

Well…

The government pays to have spikes put down—you know, like they do to stop pigeons gathering on ledges in multi-story car parks and around old statues–so that the homeless can’t sleep in those areas. (1) (2)

Local councils put bars across public benches so people couldn’t sleep there. (3)

Sprinklers are fitted to soak the homeless when they try to take shelter in Bristol. (4)

The government hires advertising space telling you not to give to the homeless. (5)

In the UK, public opinion toward the poor and homeless has been declining. This seems to be an indirect result of austerity, where now those accepting or requiring government subsidy are victims of negative propaganda campaigns. This is touched on, in an indirect sort of way in my Jaywick series, an area most known to the rest of the country for its appearances in Benefits by the Sea. It’s a common feature and probably not just of the modern era; when we have to tighten our belts, we are taught to blame those at the bottom rather than those at the top. How different we treat the well dressed crooks and criminals that set the course and agenda.

 

Part of this particular branch of homeless-scepticism is the result, as best I can tell, of a recent Daily Mail article. The claim is that, a lot of homeless people aren’t homeless, they’re just beggars. Just beggars. Maybe there are a few people that leave their houses then go hang out on in town centres asking for change, although, frankly, it’s hard to believe that the cost-benefit analysis for most people that actually have houses would come up pro the go out and beg idea. I suppose you’re self employed, so you can take the day off and finish when you like, but you also have to commute to your spot either in a nearby town or the town centre.

While I’m not saying fake-homeless people are impossible, I am saying it’s so improbable and return so little, that I doubt its a systemic problem. Although you might think it was if you heard some people discuss it or if you saw certain posters that showed the government approach to the Homelessness problem.

The Mail is careful to portray the entire story as, ‘Sarah Craig, responsible for promoting shopping and tourism in Dundee, claims that…’ It’s opinion as headline news, but the headline has already done damage by the time the opinion part is established. The headline is, ‘”Career beggars” often make hundreds of pounds a week but the “vast majority have homes and receive benefits.”‘

It’s actually darker than that. She says later in the article, ‘Sadly, our experience dealing with beggars in the city centre tells us that the money is not being used to buy food or a hot drink. It is being used to fund drug and alcohol habits. The reality is that this misplaced act of kindness could kill.’

Not only shouldn’t you give money to homeless people or beggars, if you do, you might actually be killing them.

Why we should listen to Sarah Craig, essentially the head of tourist advertising in the area, isn’t clear. She works for the council and so, through some vague study, this is what she says has been found. It is interesting how much easier her job becomes if the problem of homelessness is a ‘lifestyle choice’ as she describes it.

The homelessness nuisance, where some people’s financial fortunes and mental health problems have the temerity to impact in some small way the spinning wheels of capitalism. You can be homeless, that’s fine. Just not here, not around my shop.

But, for sake of argument, let’s assume the lady is right. I’m pretty sure a thorough analysis would find that most of the beggars in Dundee don’t have homes and benefits, but that really isn’t the point.

If they have homes and they’re begging, what does that tell you? They’re desperate, they have psychological issues, probably drug problems. It’s inconceivable that a fully cognisant and sane person, who has a house and a benefit stream, would go onto the streets, pretend to be homeless in cold conditions, to raise, over the course of several hours, days and weeks, a couple of hundred quid. When you see the people that you suspect may fit into this category–the messy looking guy by the betting shop with old clothes and an alcohol smell following him–they’re so dishevelled, so beaten already, that really, do you feel that resentful of their con, if you can even call it that? You don’t have to give them money, but why you’d feel compelled to tell others not to is more mysterious than me.

Do you think these broken people, houses or no houses, are nefarious and ill-meaning leeches or are they lost and desperate, at such a low point they compromise their dignity and well-being for a little cash to buy a drug that there’s a very good chance you enjoy occasionally yourself?

It’s not all pain. It’s not all miserable bastards. There’s still some hearts out there. My response to the initial facebook comment was liked a lot more times than the negative ones. I guess more people resounded with my feelings than his. If nothing else, that means the ongoing hate campaign against the urban poor hasn’t gotten as far as it may seem if you go by newspaper headlines. That doesn’t change the fact that a modern nation where the citizens have to go around removing cross bars from benches designed to stop the homeless from sleeping there, is a sick one.

There is a lot of hypocritical thinking about homelessness and poverty in general. It’s interesting that the head of marketing for a region describes begging as a lifestyle choice. It’s interesting that we judge the way a person might spend their money, knowing full well we would very likely spend it in the same way. Is it okay to get fucked up and wasted if you have a house but if not then…? It’s interesting that we look at the rough sleeper with contempt or disgust and the banker with respect, where its often the rough sleeper who finds himself in that position because of the work of the banker. It’s interesting that all this is going on at the same that we have the highest number of vacant houses in history and 11’000 of them have been vacant for ten years or more.

Here’s late comedian Greg Giraldo discussing some of the absurdities of modern culture and touching specifically on the homelessness issue this post has been about.

 

Header photo courtesy of Decision Marketing News. 

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About Luke Smith

I travel around and write about it. When I'm not travelling around, I write about whatever seems meaningful to me at the time; these are usually meditations on current events, finding ways to survive the crushing existential grind of modern civilisation or vaguely philosophical musings.
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13 Responses to Homelessness and Poverty – Cruelty and The Cold in Pre-World War 3 Britain

  1. Sue Vincent says:

    There are criminals, conmen, addicts and drunkards at every echelon of society… on the streets and in the halls of government. The vast majority, at both ends of the social scale, are decent people, there because that is where their lives have led them. Of those on the streets, few would choose that lifestyle, even though, once caught by it, they may find it impossible to leave. People become broken for many reasons… and it could happen to any one of us.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You bring up excellent points. Too often, and this is because our brains are hardwired to do it, we substitute answering an easier question when we can’t find a good answer to the much more complex one. It’s easy to say, “homeless people aren’t really homeless, they don’t deserve compassion.” While it’s much more difficult to say, “What brings each and every person to this place? How can we solve the unique problems of each and do it in a way that brings everyone greater prosperity?” These questions are tough and as you point out in your piece, so many of us stop at the convenient answer and move on. You’ve offered much to think about.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Me On Focus says:

    Great Post! I think that no one would stay in streets bagging for money if he/she didn’t have a problem! Also instead of spending money with posters to tell us what we are supposed to do and not supposed to do in a democratic country is wrong way of using the money we pay in taxes! They should instead find a way to help the people instead of bitting them down! Another thing: if they spend our tax money the way they want I’m free to spend my money the way I want and if I want to help a person I will… 🙏🏽

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Zarah Parker says:

    It’s not much different in the US.

    It’s been drilled into my head, “you don’t work, you don’t eat,” by my father. I don’t disagree with him, but when it comes to people unable to, I think we should show compassion.

    And think it’s easy to forget to show that compassion, especially when a lot of people take a advantage of the system, so is it awful for others to wonder who are the ones that really need help?

    I can’t really land on a side of complete compassion, to be honest. Does that sound heartless? We’ve had a homeless person throw change back into our car because it wasn’t cash. We’ve had people take the food we offer and throw it on the ground.

    So, I don’t think it’s wrong to be cautious when giving, but I don’t think anyone should react like those people on FB…

    I hope I don’t come off as a jerk. I don’t think it’s right the way people treat homeless people, I think what I’m trying to say is that in some cases I understand their disbelief.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I appreciate your very honest post. Certainly I’ve had some bad experiences with the homeless and dishevelled, nothing quite as bad as money being thrown back at me though. I’ve had some very pushy and aggressive beggars who required assertiveness to get rid of. It’s a sad day when you have to plan a series of vicious and definitive strikes to another person in the event that the bastard doesn’t let you pass…

      But I’ve never had much trouble with compassion for the poor. It helps that I am poor, at least in relation to the other people in my comfortable first world nation. The idea that people should go hungry (even bad people) in a world of abundance is disgusting to me. Heartbreaking.

      I understand the disbelief but to me, I see someone in trouble and lost before I see anything else. However low the person seems, they’ve been bought there by circumstance. Knowing we are all victims of circumstance, and knowing especially that we do not live in a meritocracy, I am very sympathetic.

      We find it hard to believe in middle class suburbia, but we really aren’t too far from being on the streets ourselves or a loved one being there. One piece of real bad luck, one notable mistake. We imagine we’d hold ourselves differently but most of us don’t know how we’d react in extreme situations, mostly we wouldn’t react how we expect or predict. If we did, there would be no cowards. But lots of us, maybe most of us, are cowards and weak, especially when isolated and cast out.

      I can understand your slightly harder stance than mine. You get burnt so many times and you’ll start to retract your hand quicker. Still, for me, I do my best to err on the side of compassion unless the individual has disrespected me.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Zarah Parker says:

        I live your view.
        It’s actually something I’ve thought about a lot recently, especially since I noticed how my nephew had reacted to a homeless person and it kind of broke my heart.
        I am a bit hardened, I suppose. It’s a bit because of what I’ve seen, but also because of how often I see people lie.

        I grew up poor, and watching my mom and dad make the most out of it and then turn their lives into something is something I look up to.

        You are impacted by circumstance and anything can happen, but I still believe it’s up to you to decide how that plays out.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Lana says:

    I give a food but not money usually (sometimes I do). I cannot afford to give to every beggar, you would go broke in Birmingham as the amount of people living rough has risen greatly in recent years.

    One time I didn’t have anything on me but the homeless guy nearby was so grateful that I had even acknowledged him and said hello. He was shouting his thanks down the street as he sat covered in polythene in a doorway. It is very sad. Being ignored becomes the norm for them.

    I follow a lady on WordPress who is homeless and charges her phone in public places and washes in disabled toilets. She is a person with 2 degrees and who has had the nice job and home. It can happen to anyone.

    May God touch our hearts to always do a little bit to bring comfort to someone suffering.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think giving resources rather than money is a great idea. It can be a painful experience passing a beggar, where you don’t want to ignore them, you know they’re a human being, but you’re too anxious at the time because you have nothing to spare. Must be particularly frustrating as people increasingly don’t have physical money but use cards.

      Being ignored is the norm. It’s kind of gut wrenching when you see it. A stream of people all ignoring a person that’s talking to them. I’ve been in that stream too.

      I’d love to know who the homeless woman you follow on wordpress is?

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Lana says:

    https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/77887099

    This is Amanda’s blog. It would be great if she got some followers as she is very new to the site.

    Liked by 1 person

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