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Do we always notice someone in need? Homelessness: a Big Issue

homeless manI made a discovery recently that my maternal great-grandmother had been homeless at some point in her life, walking from Doncaster to Leeds or Halifax, accompanied by my grandmother, selling her wares to make enough money to eat and stopping at workhouses en route. When I was chatting to Mum about it, she was dismayed to learn I wanted to include this on my blog. Negative connotations and words like tramp or vagrant add to the stigma she still feels about her Nanna Annie.

Though that seems Dickensian, it’s staggering to learn that in London alone, according to Sky News, 6,437 people slept rough during 2012-13 – a 62% rise in two years. There’s no true national total, however, and official figures do not account for the hidden homeless, but that one personis forced to sleep on the streets is one too many, I think, in today’s society.

The thought of having nowhere to live really frightens me, as would the dangers of sleeping outside. Many of those who are homeless – particularly people in cities and towns – beg for money to buy food and a warm drink, relying only on the generosity and compassion of others. Yet how many of us have become accustomed to their presence in shop doorways or on our pavements?

It’s not just an adult problem, either. Children and veterans are also living rough; suggestions from experts that youth unemployment and the economic downturn is helping to increase their numbers makes for distressing reading.

One assumption that can prevent passers-by from giving financial help is the thought that any donation or help will be spent solely on drugs or alcohol. Whilst this may be true in some cases, it’s perhaps narrow-minded to tar all those currently homeless with the same brush.

The Big Issue is one initiative that’s tackling homelessness head-on. Believing that it’s better to give a homeless person a ‘hand up’ rather than a ‘hand out’, its support not only helps get people off the street, it also helps boost their self-esteem and their sense of self-worth, both of which no doubt plummet when sleeping rough and becoming yet another statistic.

With every copy sold of the Big Issue, the seller earns £1.25 profit. They’re also responsible for buying their own stock and selling tactics. Essentially, they run their own small business.

There’s definitely something in this approach that calls to me. Big Issue vendors are earning money, in the same way as everyone else, and are driving their own success. Whilst still relying on the general public, they’re offering something in return, at considerable effort, considering the hours they stand just to gain the odd buyer of the magazine.

Buying a copy of the Big Issue helps people on the streets is perhaps something we’re all aware of, but how many of us actually do that? Are we more accustomed to averting our eyes from the vendor’s whilst hurrying along? The next time you’re rushing to the train station, or you’re en route to a meeting, and you hear those words ‘Big Issue…buy your Big Issue’, stop to think: you’ll soon be on your way to a warm home, a nourishing meal and a comfortable bed – they won’t.

The Big Issue vendor’s mentality that they want to make their own way in the world and not rely on charity or handouts – that they want to build their way towards a better solution – is commendable. But as we rush past, ignoring their existence, we’re still denying them that. Buying a copy sees money go directly to the vendor in need, and not through some charity’s management structure before reaching those it’s meant for. Given that my ancestors were in such a position, homelessness is an issue I’ve certainly become far more aware of, as I hope you are now from reading this.

Homelessness can be a result of an unfortunate chain of events, rather than wilful exclusion from society or self-destruction. It’s easier to judge, unfortunately, than take the time from our busy schedules to actually provide help. You may never know the circumstances of the vendor in-front of you but you can be sure that buying a ‘Big Issue’ will help homelessness become less of one. If we all did that, homelessness could be something completely eradicated.

What are your thoughts? Please do share your comments; it’s a topic that would benefit from more discussion and debate. 

As ever, if you would like leadership coaching or help with team building, contact me at angela.sabin@executive-life-coaching.co.uk.

Thanks to freedigitalphotos.net for use of the images







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