Thursday 26 February 2015

Opinion: We cannot for our comfort ignore the homeless

No woof without a roof
Having suffered the threat of homelessness a number of times, there are deep experiences that recovering from illness and adversity have brought into my life.
I have hoped that the lessons I learnt and continue to learn will make me a better person, a more considerate person, a caring person, a compassionate person and a more understanding person.
Critically, being a more understanding person hopefully helps you appreciate long before you are tempted to judge or be prejudiced.
More than who you see
I have seen homelessness in many cities and it is clear that most homeless people have stories and narratives that are far from the stereotypes of homelessness that we are sometimes fed by the media.
One such example of a homeless person with a story was that of Anne Naysmith whose obituary appeared in literally all the main English newspapers, locally known as the Car Lady of Chiswick, she was once concert pianist and even taught at Trinity College, London.
She lost her home and lived rough in a car for 26 years before she was moved on by the authorities, quite a tale of a life that was. It goes without saying that many others might well have tales of wonder in their past that the present attempts to place into insignificance. We must never be fooled, our humanity is much richer than what meets the eye.
Longing for a caring society
For myself, where I have had the opportunity, I have been blessed to both give and encourage, if I could do more, I would love to. For what many of the homeless need is first the understanding of others and then the opportunity to begin to have options; once those options are there, they can begin to make choices; choice indicates a sense of independence and from the budding of the very basic encouragement in word and in deed, you can watch people rise.
What I long for is, a more caring society, a more considerate humanity and a more engaging community in helping those who lack shelter, resource or opportunity.
Atrocious spikes
It is in this vein that I was utterly, utterly repulsed by the studs Selfridges in Manchester installed on the ledges of their shop window with the excuse that they were to prevent staff from smoking about and around the entrance of the store. [Mancunian Matters]
Whilst the ledge itself was probably not wide enough for people to sleep on, it represented a growing trend first seen in London when Tesco’s installed anti-homeless studs at their Regent Street store and then a luxury apartment complex in London did the same.
For all the excuses and many might be valid for installing the studs just as anti-pigeon pins are installed around public buildings, the broader society could not countenance the deliberate attempt to cleanse our inner cities of the homeless so that we can comfortably assume their being out of sight means we do not have a homelessness problem amongst us.
Our true society
I believe we need to observe the comforts and the discomforts of our communities in plain sight and if at any time the discomforts of homelessness should disappear, it should be as a result of society working to help rather than society actively ostracising and stigmatising those more unfortunate than ourselves.
It is the reason why I signed Change.Org petition started by Professor Cathy Urquhart asking Selfridges in Manchester to remove the anti-homeless spikes from outside their store and I am glad to report that after a well-publicised campaign against this odious and reprehensible conduct, the spikes have been removed.
Still unforgivable
I, however, doubt this episode will be forgiven just as I have not forgiven Tesco’s for thinking up the stinking idea. I would rather see these corporate behemoths of retail excess positively contributing to helping the homeless and the many disadvantaged, get their lives together and find opportunities to thrive in society.
That to me would be real corporate social responsibility, one where those who have been helped with have heart-warming stories of corporate showing a human face, having a human heart passionately and compassionately working for profit for the community and themselves.
Whilst I will thank Selfridges in Manchester for listening, the real truth is it should never have happened in the first place.

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