The Disraeli Room

The Disraeli Room

Blog Post

A Spotlight on Homelessness

21st August 2015

Perhaps the headline figure of my postgraduate research at Richmond University in London, is 51% of Londoners do not help the homeless on the streets or through a charity. This is somewhat understandable given those who wish to live and work in the capital might feel they have their own financial hurdles. But addressing homelessness need not be a financial constraint on those already struggling to make their way in Europe’s most expensive city. By simply offering a cup of coffee obtainable through free incentives, without putting themselves out of pocket, they can make a difference by improving the conditions of the homeless; a small change that, when aggregating, adds up to a grander shift in attitudes.

After many difficulties meeting homeless people through various charities, it became evidently clear that I needed to approach a person homeless in London directly myself. So my plan was to travel to London Marylebone early morning on Wednesday 29th July.  But what was I hoping to achieve?

The first thing I did before I approached Sid was to go to McDonalds and buy him breakfast. In exchange for giving me the chance to sit and talk to him about my project, I offered him fresh food and a hot drink. My morning experience with Sid was very eye opening. He spoke to me in a very friendly genuine manner. Sid did not however take the hot cup of coffee I offered him though, because he already had two beside him. “I don’t like to waste”, he said, and this gets at the very heart of how we can help the homeless in the most simple of ways.

A student could purchase a free cheeseburger with a regular meal by just showing their ID at McDonalds. A family member could have collected enough points at Nandos to be given a free ½ chicken. A London commuter could have collected enough stamps within 2 weeks to be given a free cup of coffee. Each of those free benefits, could be given to someone in greater need, someone sleeping rough on the streets, someone homeless.

It may not seem much. Indeed, I do not suppose that a free coffee or bite to eat is going to revolutionise a situation that is rapidly growing out of control. Since 2010, in the face of recession and cuts to frontline services, homelessness has grown by 52% throughout the country. This is not a problem that can be solved by passing footfall, no matter how well-intentioned. What it can do, however, is get an an oft-neglected aspect of sleeping rough; the social alienation that can accompany it. In a city as vast and often faceless as London, the homeless can feel particularly ignored. Giving a cup of coffee and a brief chat may not change the underlying causes of their plight, but it can help at least show the empathy that all of us value, and some of us our denied.

From the results of my survey, it became clear from a pool of a little less than 100 people what the general response was. However it should be noted that a real judgement could only be made from a pool of respondents of at least 1000-2000. A majority of those who responded to the surveys wish to live and work in London, but cannot due to financial issues; they do not take full advantage of financial incentives, and do not think to help those in greater need. The results showed that only 23% said they do, whilst 27% said they do not think to. The alternative option received from the majority (49%) said sometimes if they remember. Such opportunities are being wasted by merely not realising the purest potential behind the most seemingly insignificant of acts.

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