This week’s column, first published in the Portsmouth News, 7th January 2013.
I wonder where you are sat whilst you read this. Are you at home, cosy on your sofa? Or sat on the train, travelling home? Maybe you’re at the office. Perhaps you’re bored and dreaming of getting home later.
Or, perhaps you don’t have a home to return to. Perhaps you’ve picked up a paper that has been discarded and are leafing through it before you bed down in a doorway for the night, on a stark pavement, devoid of warmth and bare of soul.
I’ve lived in Portsmouth for years and often, as I walk or drive around the city, I see people who have no home. Adults become numb to this, but my children are still young enough to be horrified and enveloped by sadness that some people have no home: no sanctuary to return to at the end of the day; no food to eat; no warmth. And they are young enough not to be cynical or judgemental when they consider the reasons why.
There are posters around our city about homelessness, but they don’t suggest ways in which to give practical help. Instead, they tell you not to help, because they make the sweeping judgement that anyone without a home is an addict.
This may be the case for some people, but why does this mean that they should not be helped? And what does that help entail? For surely you can cook a meal, package it, and take it to that gentleman or lady who is sleeping rough in the doorway of the local shop? You can offer an old blanket, or a book to read. You can help. But do you want to?
Bob Geldof may have helped Ethiopia, but he and Comic Relief et al also contributed to our compassion fatigue: nothing shocks us to our senses anymore.
We live instead thinking that other people do not feel things like ‘we’ do. That you cannot be a Good Samaritan because of the fear that the person in the shop doorway, who is not looking their best, might be violent. Or because ‘we’ live in a smug bubble, assuming that it would never happen to ‘us’. Even our language creates a barrier of us, we and them.
I want my children to grow-up with compassion and without judgement. I’d also like them to grow-up with a home, and to assume that help would be at hand if they did not. Simple things, little things, but, it would seem, not always easily achievable.
Can also be found online: http://www.portsmouth.co.uk/opinion/homelessness-is-a-problem-1-5790300?utm_content=buffer03d5a&utm_medium=twitter&utm_source=buffer&utm_campaign=Buffer