Tuesday 1 April 2014

Please do not walk on by

Life is not fair
As I passed through Manchester Piccadilly Station the other day, I saw an advertisement poster with the message, “Don’t fund the habit, fund the charities.”
There is a message there, but I do wonder if it is the true reflection of issues to do with many of the people I have encountered who beg on the streets in the many big cities I have been to.
In my own personal life, I have had plenty and very little, I have enjoyed extravagance and after illness I was reduced to penury, needing more help than my heretofore independence was able to ask for.
Doors slammed in my face
When I did ask for help, from a system into which during the good times I had paid all my dues and more, I encountered hurdles, bottlenecks, indifference and difficulty. [It took the hospital to unclog the system.]
The things I was entitled to were denied me because I did not look vulnerable enough or did not tick all the boxes of desperate privation authored by some comfortable apparatchik oblivious of the realities on the street.
I cannot vouch for anyone in terms of whether they are struggling with drug or alcohol problems, but I can say that if the so-called charities were really doing the jobs they suggest they are doing with the funds people throw into their collecting buckets or the ones that can be transferred through the simplicity of Short Message Service (SMS) text messages, I should not be seeing beggars on our streets.
Who helps these people?
Yet, step out into Manchester City centre every evening and quite every major street corner has someone begging for spare change. Then there are others who would approach you with a story, long or short, their need is immediate and it makes no allowances for the smartness of seeking the nearest entrée to officialdom to get help.
In a few recent encounters, these were people who truthfully or otherwise on a cold damp night needed a place to sleep in shelters that would demand a payment before accepting them.
Where these people have fallen through the safety net with holes big enough to let elephants through without entanglement, they simply have nothing and sometimes not even a blanket to take shelter in an open street doorway.
No way out
They are usually in a catch-22 situation, for without an address you really cannot do anything, even if someone ignorantly and naively thinks the system and the welfare state is in overdrive, on anecdotal evidence alone, I can well assume that many who need that help cannot get beyond the first hurdle to get the help they need.
I cannot ignore such people, having lived so close to the edge, the people who were once invisible to me are too visible to walk past. Having been given a second chance of life after cancer, in the little and plenty that I have, I desire to have an open hand.
Prepare to give
An open hand is one that can give and it is also open to receive, the former being more impactful. Much that we donate goes to child welfare or animal welfare in faraway lands and that is good, but we stand in rank hypocrisy if at our doorsteps there be many who are needy and we in response to those advertisements decide not to do the needful.
These people are our neighbours, the ones on the furthest spectrum of our diverse humanity who have for all sorts of reasons happened upon hard times. Times we may never and I hope many never come to experience.
However, I know what a very little gift can do for someone desperately in need, and if we challenge ourselves to address that need generously, for some, we would have become angels.
In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “There are people in this world so hungry, that God cannot appear them except in the form of bread.”
Where charities cannot bring bread to the hungry, I will do my bit, I hope the help I offer is helpful, but I would not agonise over what is done with the help I have offered.

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