Canva Homeless Shelter Paris France

January 2020 - Homeless not helpless

Homeless not helpless

Last month my wife enjoyed an important birthday. To celebrate, we had a weekend in Brighton and took in a wonderful concert by Emeli Sandé. The following morning, we went shopping. It would have been as forgettable as normal except for one small event. As we were walking through a passage, I suddenly heard the sound of coins racing across the pavement. They belonged to a homeless man. Someone had accidentally kicked his paper cup; all his money scattered. We bent down to help retrieve the coins. As we did so, our new friend told us not to bother, “They’re only 2ps”. Sadly, he was correct. He had little more than a couple of dozen 2p coins. Even so, he showed sincere gratitude.

The incident left me very unsettled. I could easily have given him money, much more than his cup collection. Would it have made any difference? Would it have been the right thing to do? Is giving from my change, as an instant emotional response, going to alter anything except to make me feel slightly better? Regularly, we are told not to give money to people on the street but rather give to the organisations that are helping homeless people. Generally, I endorse that message but how often do I actually do it?

In that moment on the street, the homeless man and I shared an experience together. I was no longer a stranger treating him as just another of Brighton’s homeless. Suddenly, we were in a relationship. He was no longer a stranger either, but a person with feelings who deserved to be treated with dignity and respect. He had probably made some poor decisions in his life but so had I. He probably had regrets but so do I. He probably wanted a different future and so do I.

Emeli Sandé summed it up for me in the song Human that we’d so enjoyed the night before:

We all love, we all pray
We all make some mistakes
Win or losing, we all human
We all go through things

What is the best I can do? I can give recognition, respect, friendship, dare I say love? It begins with my attitude.

As we enter the new decade, as we hope for a better future, may I wish you a Happy New Year.

Andrew Frere-Smith (Imagine Norfolk Together, King’s Lynn)