Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Street Wise

'You can't explain what war really is to someone who has never been there, just as you can't explain green to a blind person, or a man can't know what it's like to give birth. They simply don't have the necessary sensory organs. You can't explain or understand war - all you can do is experience it.'

This is a quote from One Soldier's War in Chechnya by Arkady Babchenko as featured in the Independent magazine on Saturday.

My experiences of war (when the US invaded Grenada in 1983) are very different, but I do know exactly what he means with this quote.

I would say the same is true for any major traumas - bereavement, for example.
You have to live it to know it.
'Who feels it, knows it,' Bob Marley once sang.

Or what about homelessness?
Anyone who has never been forced to sleep on the streets - fending for themselves, living with the dangers, the isolation, the scorn of those who cannot know - has a unique experience.

Luckily we have the technology to enable the voices of people who are usually dismissed or ignored to be heard.
We may not know how it really feels to live life on the margins, but we no longer have any excuse for not listening when we are told by those who do know.

I posted here about plans to make soup runs for homeless people illegal.

Almost immediately there was a comment.
Someone calling themselves Homeless Chicken responded angrily, assuming I had no experiences in my own life which would enable me to understand the complexities of life on the streets.

It would have been so easy for us to be polarised.
HC could have dismissed me as a patronising liberal do-gooder and I could have taken a smug and superior stance that would have placed each of us firmly on opposite sides of the barricades.

Instead we began a dialogue based on mutual respect.

You see, I wanted to hear what HC had to say and felt it was crucial to hear his or her voice.
I wanted others to hear too and was glad that my blog gave HC a platform for their words.

I don't know this Chicken.
Until recently I didn't even know his or her gender (I now know you are a woman, HC.)
Anyone reading her comments may have had an picture in their mind and I'll bet that image was of a white guy in his 20s or 30s - probably a drug user.

But I posted here last year about Emily - a Jamaican Big Issue seller in her 80s.
There is no homeless stereotype, only homeless PEOPLE.

In case you haven't been following HC's comments on the original post, here are some of the things she has said that we really should be listening to.

HC on survival of the fittest
... the first rule when using soup runs in London,is GRAB NOT,GET NOT..by this i mean its the strongest who survive,some people get loads of stuff, some nothing at all,there are many times,the run runs out of soup,bread,sandwiches,tea,coffee,clothes,and mentioning clothes, you be surprised the amount of people who grab clothes,only to sell on their market stall the next day,this causes lots of friction,we call them the plastic homeless,they look the the part, but are not..as you say homelessness comes in many shapes and forms, and their are lots of impostors as well. 6.43pm Nov 3rd

HC on donated food

the food which is given out at "HANDOUTS" which are called soup run,s,we see lots of stuff, coming out big supermarkets,surplus,end of sale date,etc..and is given to us free..
Should be a homeless hostel resident,okay housing benefit pays rent etc, but breakfast, dinner, if your lucky,and evening meal you have to pay for out of your benefit noney,there is a organisation called Fairshare, that collects,and delivers, free food as they call it, to hostels,and daycentres we use ... you have to pay for it, its not free! nominal charge its called,explotation i call it,these are so called Charitys for the homeless,Dont give your money to a begger, give it to a charity for the homeless,
Makes you kind of think don,t it
and as a footnote to that im not street begger,or charity fundraiser either,just homeless, but not braindead
6.45pm Nov 4th

HC on staying in touch with your own humanity
At this moment in time,have just left lincon,s inn fields,in central london,Handout at 7.30 [soup run] which was supllied by the Ba Ba people from a temple in Kensington,meal consisted or rice,and chicken stew,a banana,club biscuit,and tea,or coffee from many flasks,very soon afterwards came the Hari Krisna Handout,rice again,and veggie meal,orange juice,there may be one or two more yet to arrive .... the soup runs not only feed people its also a meeting place to keep up with the street politics ... There is a soup run that comes out early every morning to us called the Simon community..tea, sandwiches,and they only go to people people like myself,living on the streets,at least there ain,t no pushing,and shoving,caucse we respect each other,All in the same Boat..

just thoughts during day got lots of time to think,if nothing else. 8.39pm Nov 5th

HC on life
when i started in the b log disscussion i was staying at a freinds place i knew,but he wanted his privacy back,so okay will leave,been on streets before ,do it again,no problem ! wish i could say "Life is a Adventure "depend i think which angle you are looking from, Alice in the Looking Glass?

8.58pm Nov 5th

HC on hostels

many people including myself are around, or living more than one homeless label,in a week... the number of times the comment has been passed to me,"you should be grateful what you get",and this from a paid homeless sector worker,as if they are doing me a big favour, plus within hostels there are quite a few workers who are bullys to people who are a homeless resident in hostel, the reason 2 fold 1. you a not a tennant, you sign a licence when you go into a homeless hostel,which means you sign your rights away..2.you complain about anything,they have the ultiminate deterent," THERES THE DOOR DONT COME BACK" sorry bit of a rant there, been there got the tee shirt..and dont forget the average hostel in london charges £300 a week, admittitley housing benefit pays this,but there are many services in a hostel,you dont,or may not want to use..
9.02pm Nov 6th

HC on true words
Homelessness is the most extreme manifestation of poverty...

only words, but so True!
8.39pm Nov 7th

HC on causes
Root causes,as many and as varied as people,over the years ,that i have been homeless,i have never met two people,who fell into the abyss the same,yes of course we talk to each other,on the streets,we are wearing the same label..but you have to be careful what you say,and the way you say it,if you give away a weakness in yourself,some my use this as a lever against you,self-preseversation thats what it boils down to, can make you very insular,and inward looking,live from moment to moment,day to day,no forward looking or planning..Roots, causes, of homelessness/prevention..how can you plan a cure?of a event? before it has even happened..

7.50pm Nov

HC on labels
There some red faces around today,the people like myself, who spent the night "OUT" the red face because of the cold wind,took a while to get moving at 6am this morning... found a sandwich shop that puts its leftovers out just after five,and being friday,there is more than i can eat,so have put bag in a safe place,and share with others later... Issues; labels, labels ,labels where does it stop.There is plenty of crossover,and looking at one issue,means you can miss others more relevant to the person... people on the streets with mental health problems,there are a couple of people i have got to know, NO WAY should they be on the streets..just hope they are found soon by outreach workers ,and helped..which just goes to show Care in the Community,social policy lets down a lot of people,we need more dooers, not talkers,

8.48pm Nov 9th

HC on so-called experts
we are never really asked what we would like,at times this can come across as very,condesending,and patronising,example: They has been many surveys conducted about homelessness,i have been in a couple,was given a five pound reward? for taking part,Classic both times,first question,whats your name,date of bith, its comes across as authority,and we do not need to go down that road do we,

strait away its them and us..so give them lots of false answers,cause they dont know any better,and as a woman on the streets,you have to protect yourself,there is a invisable circle around me, and you "DONT" come inside, unless i invite you... why do i use IT cafe,s, cheap,warm, and best of all,treated the same as anyone else,and most importantly of all allows me to express my thoughts,as a person..being homeless is transitional,not a characteristic
7.44pm Nov 11th

HC on Xmas
start of christmas run up,party on the streets,xmas food laid on, big smiling faces,from volunteers,if your lucky, a director from the charity involved will be there,with a photographer,to get his picture taken for the annual yearly report..

"Life is an adventure
Life is like a good book
There are many chapters
10.12pm Nov 11th

I wish it was possible for you to have your own blog, HC, but grabbing sessions in internet cafes is hard, I know.

Meanwhile I'm more than happy for you to use my blog as a platform to ensure your voice is heard.

Take care, stay safe and I hope there's a bright future waiting for you around the next corner.


Anonymous said...

Im most grateful to you debi..
regards homelesschicken

Anonymous said...

Humanity,never thought of that it that way,all i know at this moment temp outside is rising,a couple of degrees,and in the morning,my hands wount be feeling so cold,as they have done over the last few days,thats why have been enjoying typing out my thoughts,im a bit stuck tonight although..afraid the cold seems to supress rational thought at times,or maybe circumstances, may have a bearing on this......
regards homelesschicken

S. Kearney said...

Wow, it's amazing what we can come across on a blog. What a diverse world this leads us into! :-)

Debi said...

HC - I'm grateful to you too, for sharing your experiences with us all.

Cold hands, warm heart, eh? Take care. Please!

Shameless - yes, blogging never ceases to amaze me with its potential for allowing us glimpses into worlds we would otherwise not have access to.

Unknown said...

Something remarkable has happened on your blog, Debi. A powerful post - thanks, Homeless Chicken.

May I be so bold as to ask what may seem like a puerile question? I ask, because I don't know the answers and I'd like to understand.

What puts people on the streets and in the position of homelessness? I realise this probably requires multiple answers each of which would be complex.

We have many homeless people here, particularly children, most of whom have run away from abuse - only to inevitably become more abused. Thing is, here we have a state system that truly doesn't work - one sometimes wonders if it even exists - and this too for multiple reasons. One would have hoped that in the UK it would be different.

And I have a final question - where or how does hope lie - is there a solution and if so, what might it be?

I ask not out of insensitivity and I trust I haven't come across as such, but I really do want to understand. Debi, if you feel my questions are inappropriate, please feel free to delete my comment. I won't be offended.

Debi said...

Ab Van - this is far from insensitive. There's nothing wrong with struggling to understand root causes and looking for possible solutions.

HC has said previously that there are as many causes as there are people - no two people are the same - though in the debate on the original post we did identify some obvious strands that some have in common.

My own view is that the safety net needs to be more effective to prevent people falling through in the first place and then there needs to be proper services for those who still do. Care in the community is just a way of dumping people ...

HC has said there needs to be proper consultation with homeless people as they are best placed to know what's needed and how it should be delivered.

HC - hope you don't mind me responding to these questions and also hope you will add your own version when you get a chance.

And yes, Ab Van - what's happening here certainly IS remarkable!

Anonymous said...

Soups runs,my thoughts which may appear to be one-sided,because i am homeless myself,i have reached a point,where i find that" There is nothing wrong in a society seeking to care for the less fortunate, and in fact something is very wrong with a society that does not"
Soup Runs for the Homeless, a very broad term, by definition..
because the people i mix with when i go to soup runs "not everyday i must add" are there for lots of different reasons,its not just the soup? or as many call it"loop de loop"including me at times..Reasons for some is yes they are Hungry, Migrants on no benefits at all,some street homeless choose not to claim benefits at all,and for a few i know,who choose to be street homeless,its a way of ensuring that outreachworkers from charitys "cant,or wont help" them,because most outreach workers,may be able to help you, to get into a homeless hostel,as most, if not all charitys
charge for accommodation,and food!
this being payed by housing benefit,so if you choose not to claim,not a lot they can do is there..Back to soup runs,quite a few are from outlying hostels because of the charge for food,then there are people new to streets in london this time of year,xmas near lots of homeless provision,good for charity media...Sorry im being the cynical here..Soup runs people who are lonley who dont need whats on offer,but what they do need is Company! A magnet YES! for sure...
many have had homelessness experiance,but got there own place,a flat,and use the runs to mix with other people with similar experiances,doe,s cause some resentment at times by some,"What you doing here,you got FLAT", yes but as i have heard,"Got me own place,and nothing init" food ,furniture,fridge telly..did,nt get this or that grant,or support,or resetellment workers rubbish, dont know there job..for some got it all,but its human company,espically if you have lived in a hostel,with many other people,then find you are all alone in your flat,two days Scratching the walls,got to get out",its almost a kind of solitary confinment,and im afrid to say this this is one of the pitfalls,in soup runs, because if its a nice night,sod it stay out..least got someone to talk too.then it becomes two ,three, abandon the flat,How many times have i heard this,
Then there are people who squat for what ever reason at the soup runs,the list is almost endless,
"But its a people thing
better the devil i know"
Than the devil, i dont "
thats soup runs...

Unknown said...

Chick, you said....

"Being homeless is transitional,not a characteristic."

This should be posted on every street corner along with...
"There but for the grace of luck go I".

And why can't you have a blog?

Debi said...

HC - you shouldn't just have a blog! You should have a whole tv channel devoted to what you have to tell us - plus several newspapers etc etc.

Re the lack of support that you mentioned for people who do manage to get a flat - it's just so sad to think that at least on streets you get company and then if you get housed that disappears and you're abandoned with little or no access to friendship or practical help.

This seems to me to be the most fundamental aspect of the whole thing. A lack of community. If we had proper community care and support, far fewer people would be in the situation in the first place.

Frosty this morning. Thinking of you always, HC.

By the way, if you ever want to communicate with me privately, please email me. I promise that anything you tell me in confidence will stay that way. Take care.

debi at debialper dot co dot uk

Unknown said...

Thanks, Debi and HomelessChicken for the replies. I need to read through it all again, some more and try to understand the commonalities between what you experience in the UK and what happens here. What I am struck by is that charities "charge" in whatever form - ie through benefits - this seems draconian and seems to undermine the concept of charity in the first instance. Much to digest, again, thank you both for the replies.

Anonymous said...

have had time today to look around at the homeless,[sort of drums it home,every time i write homeless]daycentres opening times,in and around london.Whats the point of offering a 9 to 5 service,when being homeless is 24 hour situation,most of these homeless daycentres being run by Charities,okay there are outreach workers,but thats not the same..
I walked passed a undertakers shop today,and noticed a sign in the window,24 HOUR service,7 days a week.full support avaiable,i will let you be the judge,on who you think offers the better service..
Charity, but to who,s benefit
Giver or Reciver
Regards to you all

Debi said...

Once again, HC, you demonstrate how vital it is that those providing services should consult with the people the service is aimed at.

Your point about limited hours seems so obvious to me, yet somehow it hasn't been taken on.

Very cold again with a thick frost. Thinking of you always, HC.

Anonymous said...

Consultation,does happen for the chosen few,by this i mean,lets say a homeless daycentre,a poster appears on the wall,in centre,which will read such,and such is doing a survey,and would like your views,and you will be payed for your time,£5 is the usal,we need to talk to six people,OF COURSE more than six people say yes,then its left up to,staff to pick six out of many,don,t for get thats a lot of money,when your living a poverty? lifestyle,homeless[hope you like change of language]well its a forgone conclusion,that they will pick six people,that don,t moan to much about services,on offer which shows them in a bad light,your be surprised how the same old faces appear in different centres,when word gets around,HEY! another bit of research going on...
On a more positive note,met someone today,she said i could stay with her,at her flat,till this cold weather breaks,she has told me that has had experiance of homelessness, herself,told me some of it ,and i belive her,its better than staying out,i was really cold this morning,at 5.30am,so going to take the chance,of whats on offer..even its just one night..i need a break,
thats all for now..
debi,you are being so kind to me
and i bless you for this..
regards homelesschicken

Debi said...

HC - consultation? Sounds like a sham to me. A tiny hand-picked sample can't be representative. Especially if they're handpicked to back the official line.

Also you mentioned once before that the first things they ask is names and dates of birth etc. Even though they know many people on the streets don't want to expose themselves in this way.

I hope this really does turn out to be a break for you, HC. Now I'll worry if the weather warms up instead!

I'm not being kind. Just human. I don't know how to be any other way. But bless you too!

Anonymous said...

Would appear common sense prevails,and i hear the soup run ban, has been dropped,scrouge has been kept at bay,i wonder where the homeless charities who were in favour,and agreement of the ban now stand,There are two i can name,1.John Bird,founder of "The Big Issue" street newspaper,sold by homeless people on the streets
2.Jermey Swain,director of the charity,"Thamesreachbondway" this charity has numerous homeless hostels,and also has outreach teams,that go out at night,looking for people street homeless,to offer them some support? "Excuse the pun" but looks like they now have "Egg on their faces..
Amazing what twenty four hours,respite from the elements of the weather can do to the soul, and wellbeing,i slept till gone midday....for how long my stay at this ladys flat will last,im not sure, but will keep updating,as best i can..

Debi said...

HC- glad to hear you're warm, safe and dry at the moment. Long may it continue.

I didn't know John Bird and Jeremy Swain supported the ban! I buy the Big Issue regularly but haven't seen any vendors for a week or so, so didn't know this. What was their justification for supporting it?

Take care.

Anonymous said...

hi,google john bird soup runs,
see B.B.C. News,friday 26th 2007
17 06 GMT damaging effect soup runs......Also see thamesreachbonday website,News and Views 13 November ,Thamesreach supports ban on soup runs
regards homelesschicken

Debi said...

Thanks for this and the email, HC. Running round London today (again) but will check the links later.

Cold and wet this morning with a boiling cauldron of a sky - but a beautiful rainbow. Hope you're still safe and warm and that you find the end of your personal rainbow soon. xxx