Putrid Modern Hell #28

by HST UK on March 16, 2012

He walks on, doesn’t look back

Last Friday I behaved like Denzel Washington’s character Joe Miller had done early on in the film ‘Philadelphia’ when he first meets the AIDS ridden Andrew Beckett. I’m still disgusted as to how I reacted after a simple handshake.

I was working a shift at my voluntary job; we occasionally get visitors who pop by to the centre, to talk about their problems over a cup of tea, you never can tell who you’ll find at the door – victims of domestic violence, addicts, or manically depressed students. The doorbell rang and I hopped down the stairs, grabbing the panic alarm to conceal in my pocket just in case. I opened the double locked door and in front of me stood a rather dishevelled man, aged somewhere in his twenties. He was dressed in camouflage army trousers and a long dark navy jacket, his hair was windblown, his eyes painfully glazed with a misty shade of grey, his yellow teeth rotten, and his face gaunt.

The man informed me that he wanted to call the centre later that night by phone. So, I popped back in and got him a card with the centre’s number on, I then invited him to come in for a talk, he declined stating that he was nervous and didn’t like face to face contact, which was odd given he was talking to me face to face, though his eyes refused to make contact with mine as he talked. He told me that he had to go and pick his prescription, for what I did not ask. I did however ask him where he had been sleeping; he told me that he had been sleeping in the park, and in the welcoming doorway of the frozen foods retailer Iceland. He then told me that for the last few months he had been struggling with his addiction to solvents, and had begun to self-harm again. He rolled up his sleeve and showed me the most grotesque gouge scars I had ever seen. I also noticed a protruding blackened vein on his wrist. The man rolled his sleeve back up, and thanked me for my politeness, he introduced himself and gave me his name, I did the same, and he then offered his hand which I reluctantly shook.

Once he turned away and walked presumably to collect his prescription I ran into the bathroom, turned on the tap and scrubbed my hands ferociously with soap and water. My reaction was odd. I felt saddened by the man’s plight, but concerned more about his personal hygiene.

I meet a lot of troubled individuals, and sometimes despite the thin shield of professionalism that I carry; I still at times react uncharacteristically. This was one of those occasions. I suppose in many ways when you think of how easy it is nowadays to end up losing your job, your house, your wellbeing, and your sanity in this cruel modern world, which leaves so many behind, meeting someone who’s life is stuck in the gutter hits you harder than you might think.

Thinking how such vulnerable people pass their hours makes any complaint you might make about boredom or hardship seem quite ridiculous (blog’s such as this one give you an idea http://jayne-homeless2.blogspot.com/). There’s this fellow that sells ‘The Big Issue’ outside Superdrug who I regularly talk to, mostly getting tip-offs and names of wrongdoers operating in the area. I often wonder what stops him from giving up as the thousandth person blanks his chirpy honest sales pitch. What else can he do? Any vice he temporary might seek would bring only the slightest glint of pleasure.

There was a recent story in the news about homeless people in Austin, Texas being used as mobile Wi-Fi hotspots at the South by South-West Music Festival. A group of human guinea pigs were equipped with 4G devices, and rather then selling a street paper such as ‘The Big Issue’ they were selling internet access. On one hand hip young tech savvy folk are interacting with the homeless, on the other the homeless are being demeaned as living aerials.

It begs the question of how blue sky thinkers are tacking the issue of homelessness. Giving a homeless person a small amount of money isn’t going to solve their problems, helping them get back into some kind of working routine, developing self-respect and getting them to interact again with the world makes all the difference.

Critics have argued that the scheme at SxSW is just like what happened in Victorian times, back when homeless folk were given sandwich boards and posters to hold. However, there are actually people currently employed to do similar jobs. There are still sign guys and girls that walk through city streets and paid minimum wage to advertise shops and promotions. The Wi-Fi project is still very much in its development stage, but there is potential for the homeless to be helped through such initiatives, there just needs to be a bit of fine tuning.

The poor and vulnerable in society are not helped when charitable donations are obstructed by legislation. It seems unbelievable, even in recession that so much food gets wasted by Supermarkets; food that could quite so easily get donated to the hungry instead finds itself dumped in landfill sites. Kerry McCarthy, Labour MP has recently put forward a ‘food waste bill’, in which it is stated that fifty percent of edible food is wasted not just across the UK, but the whole European Union. Under her bill perfectly edible food would get redistributed amongst those who need it most. The opposition McCarthy faces comes mostly from the fear that if someone gets food poisoning from donated food, then a shit storm would erupt; supermarkets certainly wouldn’t want to associate themselves with this risk.

I found myself thinking a lot about what I could do to help. I was still thinking about the handshake the next day as I crossed the pedestrian bridge that goes over the dual carriageway by the Roman Catholic cathedral. I saw another homeless guy seated by the dark green railings; he was sketching these unique patterns on an A4 pad, some of which were for sale for a couple of quid. Given that I was going to come back over the bridge within the hour I said to myself that I would come back, have a chat with this guy and buy one of those patterns. When I returned to the bridge about three quarters of an hour later, the man was gone.

– RJW

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