This was not the post I imagined I would share with you today. It’s still late evening the night before you’ll read this and I’m currently sweating in bed thanks to the world’s warmest duvet.
Today has been pretty hot and while I ventured out briefly during the day the clamminess meant I put exercise off until much later. So at around 9.30pm I took myself off for a brisk walk along the South Bank before heading homeward. I love to people watch my way along the route and I always feel at my most creative when walking as it allows me a bit of breathing space to make some sense of the ideas that zip around my head during the week.
As I was making my way along the last stretch of the route back home I saw something odd sticking out from in between two parked cars. On closer inspection I saw it was a man, asleep in the foetal position, legs tucked up tight beneath his chin. I stared for a bit before walking on. I thought about waking him but I’ve seen homeless people be aggressive when woken so I headed on, uneasy as I went. I passed a restaurant having a party. Guests were leaving in their cars which were parked along the street I just walked down.
When I was nearly home I what’s app’d my friend telling her about the sleeping man and asked if I should go back. It was much later now but I couldn’t shake the thought of someone leaving the party and missing him; getting into their car and driving over him. My friend, who is much more sensible than I, advised going back to check and calling the police if the man was still there. So back I went and sure enough he was still there, still asleep.
I thought to myself he might be drunk but then I also thought that because he’s chosen to sleep between two parked cars he might not be quick enough to kill me so I err’d on the side of stupidity and called over to him. He opened his weary eyes and looked up. I explained the situation about the parked cars and people not being able to see him and he countered gently that he was tired and needed to sleep.
A few moments later a man walked along the footpath toward me and asked if I was all right. By this time sleeping man was trying to resume his previous position as I explained the situation to the man who was now standing in front of me. Together we reiterated the danger the man’s lying between two cars put him in and he agreed to move. Despite the heat that still lingered a little on the breeze the no longer sleeping man shivered. He told me he was homeless. When the man who stopped to help me asked whether we could call someone for him he whispered hopelessly “my mother” before retreating back into himself and shutting his eyes.
As we left him, the man I was now walking with said “maybe he’s just another person who’s come to the UK for a better life.” I have no idea how the sleeping man found himself to be in London. I don’t know where he came from or what troubles he had seen that led him to end up living on the streets of a foreign land. But I do know that when I held his hand and touched his skin it felt the same as mine. When he asked softly for his mother I felt the same yearning for mine. And when I looked into his eyes I saw a sadness I recognised.
When I first moved to London I felt very afraid, most of the time. I was frightened that I had left everything familiar to me in search of a better life where I could build a career and grow a skill set I would eventually return home with. I had rapidly depleting savings, exorbitant outgoings in transport and rent and no job on the horizon. Before I moved here a friend gave me a Tesco gift card with £50 on it. She will never know what a lifeline that was and not just for me. After I had bought enough meat to fill my allocated freezer drawer in my flatshare I decided that each time I used the card I would buy a meal for someone else in need. Each time I did so I was reminded there but for the grace of God go I.
For almost three months I felt my self worth diminish to virtually nothing as I struggled to find work. Then when I eventually found work it paid so little I had to keep living off my savings. Imagine living in a city where you need to save 3 weeks wages to be able to make your rent. The point is that people are coming to the UK in their thousands for good reason. Not everyone comes in search of benefits. Some people have left war zones and run a very dangerous gauntlet to bring their families to this country in search of a better life. Wouldn’t you do the same? Every parent, the world over, wants the best opportunities for their child. And some people come here having taken a risk that hasn’t paid off and have fallen on hard times. We have to help them. We could so easily be in their position.
I am extremely lucky. I eventually found work in the industry I was desperate to break into. As a result I am able to pay taxes which are attributed by government to the local and wider community. Now that I’m finally earning more than my rent (thank God) I am able to buy food that supports local producers. I voted in the General Election, hopeful that by voting I would be helping to create a better place to live. I have a job that has allowed me to integrate. I contribute to my community. And it is all because I took a chance and moved my life to London and, in turn, an employer took a chance on me and gave me a job.
I hope that the next time I walk down that street I won’t see the sleeping man huddled for shelter between parked cars. I hope someone will have taken a chance on him that might spare him from another night on the streets. In the meantime I hope our government will be more lenient on those seeking to set up home here in the UK and recognise the contribution they could make to this great country if only they had the chance.
Until next time,