Dirty? Scary? Lazy? Junkie? Beggar? Tramp? ‘Ignore them.’ ‘Don’t make eye contact’.
Admittedly, before I went on my first outreach session from the Strand several weeks ago, some of the above words and phrases were ringing through my head because I had not experienced first-hand what it was like to speak with a rough sleeper. One hour later, and my perspective had changed entirely.
Normal. Genuine. Thankful. Funny. Kind. Selfless. Homeless.
As well as being highly rewarding and satisfying, this outreach session was an extremely eye-opening and valuable experience.
The most memorable conversation I had was with four other girls and a rough sleeper called Gleynn, who had found shelter from the rain half way down the Strand. Although we only chatted to him for half an hour, I learnt so much about his life and his experiences…he was funny too! He told us all about his relationship with ‘New Louise’ (‘Old Louise’ was his last girlfriend!) and even acted as an Agony Aunt for those of us seeking relationship advice!
The best thing about talking to Gleynn was that he didn’t dwell on anything. Something he said which really stuck with me was ‘Sh*t happens’. Our conversations about West End shows, high IQ’s, and girlfriends were interesting but for me, this was the most important thing he said to us. It made me realise one of the facts about rough sleepers which I was ignorant to for so long; that they don’t choose to be homeless.
In my opinion, this stands as the strongest reason why nobody should treat rough sleepers any differently to the other 8.6 million people they share the streets of London with. As Ellie Goulding so articulately summarised in her condemnation of the treatment of rough sleepers “there are 7,000 people on the streets every year in London and for a city that’s thriving, that’s shameful.”
I would strongly urge you all to go on an outreach session, even if it is something you initially feel anxious about. For me, it reminded me to be far more grateful for everything that I have been blessed with in life, and I’m certain it would remind you too.
Credits to Phoebe Chapman