Walking down The Strand on Friday evening with Sam, we couldn’t help but notice the amount of people living on the streets, who were looking up pathetically at people hurrying by. In many shop doorways offering a rudimentary shelter we could see somebody huddled in a sleeping bag. It’s been only a few months since we’d been to London, but in my opinion homelessness is definitely on the increase. Once upon a time the police would have moved them on, but now I think there are so many that it’s a futile undertaking.
The sight of these sad faces made me wonder how they had ended up living on the streets. Everyone has a story to tell, but it’s not for me to judge the why or the wherefore. Instead I decided that I could do something practical to help. Passing a Co-op, I went in and bought a few packets of sandwiches, and gave them out to some homeless people along our route who were awake.
Of course I know from looking at a few TV programmes in the past that not everybody begging on the streets is actually homeless, but the change in their expressions when receiving the food let me know that they were grateful for any small kindness. We struck up a conversation with a Scots chap sitting in the doorway of a bank, who seemed strangely quite upbeat. Perhaps after a certain amount of time, living in a sleeping bag becomes the norm?
When we visited Rio in 2009 we saw whole families living on the streets, including children and grandparents. I felt terribly guilty that there we were just off the cruise ship and strolling along, and people all around us had nothing. We are not rich by any stretch of the imagination, but we had specifically been told on the ship not to offer the homeless any money. I could see why; there are so many people living rough in that beautiful country, that any coins I might have given would have been just a drop in the ocean.
Some people have such sad lives. We’ll be down in The Strand again on New Year’s Eve. I’ll arrive armed with a carrier bag of food. It’s the only thing I can do to make a little bit of a difference.