I wrote last year about the links between mental health and homelessness and it is something which needs to be addressed. Organisations like The Connection at St Martin-in-the-Fields are taking a more holistic approach, ensuring that they look for long term solutions and plans for individuals and not simply a bed for the night.
In 2017, I am running 12 marathons and the London to Brighton Challenge (100km) to raise money for The Connection and Mind, the mental health charity. Your support would change lives.
Please consider contacting your homeless charity to see how you might be able to help someone in need and distress.
It was like looking into a mirror, staring deep into my own eyes, a look back into a bubble, time suspended in a world I once knew.
However, I wasn’t talking to myself but to a young woman who I would later find out was 22 but wore the look of someone who had already fought everything that life could throw at her, battle weary long beyond her tender years.
The bright lights of the Strand allowed me to see beneath the pitiful blanket and sleeping bag with which she was trying to stay warm in sub-zero temperatures on the most wretched and brutal of London nights. Nobody should be out there sleeping rough at any time, not in the twenty first century, and certainly not on a night like this.
As I approached, her first instinct was to cower in fear; this says everything, that so many of London’s rough sleepers are in fear even of those there to help them. And so would you be; I reflected back to my twenty two year old self on a July night, curled up under the benches in Victoria Coach Station in the dead of night, just hoping somehow to be alive the next morning. How did it come to this, and that was a question that this young woman has inevitably asked herself so many times.
She did let me closer and I was able to give her a cup of coffee and an additional jacket, signaling to the team leader of the outreach team with which I was volunteering that she was engaging and that I would talk with her for a short while to make her feel at ease before we tried to find her a shelter for the evening.
It is too easy to make assumptions; you have expectations of what someone sleeping on the streets will look and sound like. Here was someone with a tender look if you could see beyond the battle weariness and with a voice which was young and well spoken, a shire education and not the inner city.
As she spoke, I realised that I had been looking into a mirror; here was someone who’d had a very good upbringing but had hit on difficult times at and after university. In her case, she found herself in an abusive relationship, one so bad that homelessness and life on the streets seemed a better alternative. She was too scared and ashamed to tell her family what she was going through yet could confide in a stranger within minutes.
Of course, she is not alone. Last night in the three hours I spent on duty, the numbers were staggering, even more so than on Wednesday morning when I had counted 15 rough sleepers in the space of about half a mile on my run into work at about 7am.
Being out there on a night like that is much more than humbling; it is perspective changing, it hurts and grates inside and tears away at your emotions and every last drop of humanity within. This must stop. People can no longer be allowed to die on the streets, dead on the inside long before their hearts stop beating.
Copyright 2016. Rohan Kallicharan. All Rights Reserved.
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