Time to share a few observations on that sanctimonious school of thought which says a) people shouldn’t give money to street homelessness people because they’ll buy booze and b) that the money should instead go to charities which “help” street drinkers.
I LOATHE that line. It implies that street homeless people aren’t entitled to the autonomy everyone else enjoys when it comes to spending/wasting money. It also implies that people who won’t/can’t stop using should be sidelined.
Which they must not be.
Let’s have a story:
Here is a picture I took recently of James, 50.
James is from Oldham. I met James in September last year. Since then, we’ve had lunch and played pool on the free table at the Ark in Oldham every month or so. I spoke to James last night. We’ll meet up again on Friday.
James has been in and out of street homelessness for years. I’m guessing that the drinking has everything to do with that. We’ve talked about it. In the time I’ve known him, James has been been banned from malls and various soup kitchens for aggro when pissed. When I saw James at the end of September, he was street homeless again. He’d just been turfed out of the temporary accommodation he’d lived in for several months:
“Don’t know what happened. The landlord come round last week and told us all to get out.”
Recently, James took a thrashing, as you can see. I met him at a Sally army lunch the day after it happened. He still had blood on his clothes. He had two black eyes, bruises down both sides of his face, a deep slash across his nose and a burn on his scalp where his head had been set alight for some reason. He wouldn’t show me the burn. He kept pulling his hat down.
“They told me it [the burn] is the shape of Ireland,” James said.
He also said, “I’m sick of people talking about it.”
Often, people don’t want to talk about it. I suppose that’s because this kind of beating is par for the course. Going into the details isn’t done. People must still live with each other, or among each other.
I’ve seen James with black eyes before. Vance, 44, who I also see a lot of, turned up to the Ark one day with scratches running down from his eyes like scabbed-up stigmata.
“Fuckers threw a cat at me,” Vance laughed when I asked about the scratches. “If I find that cat, I’m going to fucking eat it.”
J, another bloke in the group, said James was getting on his nerves the night that James was hit. James was sofa-surfing at Vance’s council flat at the time (Vance got the flat in 2016 after years of street homelessness and James often stays). J came round to watch a film. James didn’t care for the film:
“He [James] moaned about the film… and I told him to drop it, but no, he wouldn’t drop it. That night, he decided to keep opening his gob. I was trying to watch a film. Next thing you know, I give him two slaps…and then the other one took him outside and put a spray on him…[to light].”
“I’m thinking of going back to prison soon. I’m just sick of the arseholes [on the street]… I’ll stick me friggin’ ends in a… Forest Bank…or Strangeways, I’m not arsed.”
Anyway – that was the end of that, until next time.
Which is the point. There will be a next time. Might be happening as we speak. Some things don’t change in some lives. Some things can’t change in some lives, at least until people are ready to change them. Not everybody gets to that point.
I do know this. People can’t be threatened, or coerced, into sobriety. Asked to choose between sobriety and “help”, or drink and beatings, some people choose drink and beatings. I know this, because I see it. People still require support, though. They also require a society which is open to ideas of unconditional support. People need hostels and wet houses to stay in even when they’re pissed and/or spiced out of their minds. They need places to go where no questions are asked. Otherwise, they stay where they are. Doesn’t matter how society preaches.