Noticing the Homeless in London
This image was captured on Camden High Street on my way to the Camden Street Food Market. The man with his dog, surrounded by British nationalistic paraphernalia, was about 5 metres away from the Sainsbury’s supermarket. He was about to sit when this image was captured. He had old copies of the Big Issue, a magazine sold by homeless people.
My interest in the homeless begun when I volunteered, a couple of years ago, to be a driver for the Homeless Unit of Action Chapel, UK. My role involves transporting freshly made soup and bread, meals such as jollof rice on occasions and beverages from North London to Charing cross, Argyll street in heart of the Theatre district of London.
As Maya Angelou, the legendary African American poet once said, “You are the sum total of everything you’ve ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot – it’s all there. Everything influences each of us, and because of that I try to make sure that my experiences are positive.”
My experiences of feeding the homeless left an indelible mark on me that will stay with me for life. Where ever I go I notice the homeless. I find myself wondering where their next meal will come from or what their story is. Eventually wondering led to whipping out my phone to capture an image or two. In the last few months, I have garnered a collection that were all captured on my way to work and back, whilst out socialising with friends and gallivanting in London. The aim is to bring into focus what we all fail to notice or give a moment’s thought to as we go about our daily routine filled businesses. To make the invincible visible in the hope that we might care enough to lend a helping hand now and again.
Each photo like each individual experience I have had with some of London’s homeless is laced with a compelling story.
There are the “well-off” homeless. Invariably well dressed and well spoken who ocassionaly give the game away when they muster courage to ask for a few pounds to “top up their train or bus fare” most often accompanied with rather elaborate stories.
There is also the stereotypical homeless. Unwashed, unkept, emaciated and seemingly ponderous and most often chemically charged up or high. Most strategically seat themselves at places with major footfall – entrances to tube stations, supermarkets and on major high streets. These men and women tend to have a bag or two containing perhaps all they have in the world an inch or two away from them. An upturned hat or neatly folded cloth or newspaper with a a few pence in it is often strategically placed in front of them. Often the most polite of Londoners, a refusal to donate or a subtle turn of the head away from them as you pass will elicit a “thank you and may God bless you”.
Some were born and bred in London, but I find the vast majority had beginnings elsewhere. Some as close as other parts of the United Kingdom- Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Some as far afield as Eastern Europe and more recently Asia.
Some are “professional” or “intentional” homeless. Ravaged by drug and alcohol abuse and conditioned by years on the streets there is now at the very least, a tacit acceptance of life as homeless. Yet, others fell through the net by shock or trauma in their life – a divorce, debt and loss of their homes and family support. The latter often tended to see the change in their circumstances as temporary. However, as is often the case days turn into weeks, weeks into months until the experience of the four seasons on the streets become a norm.
There are some homeless I see everyday on my way to work. These are part of the local fabric. I am familiar with their routines. Sometimes I wonder if I am as visible to them as they are to me. Or perhaps the ravages of having to survive on the streets, sometimes in unbearable harsh cold, has blunted every sense of feelings and interests some of these folks may have had.
I am eternally grateful for Action Chapel – Homeless Ministry (feel free to make donations to them) for giving me some insight and hope that as you scroll down you also gain a little bit more of an insight than you had before reading this post.
It all comes down to this as far as I am concerned. Continuously showing humanity and benevolence to those who are unfortunate enough to find themselves, regardless of cause, in circumstances that we (ourselves) cannot guarantee immunity from.
One of my favourite quotes puts it better than I ever could.
‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Matthew 25:35-36
This image was taken a few moments after descending from the Waterloo Bridge on my way to the Southbank Centre, South London.
This image was taken near the Royal National Theatre, Southbank, London on my way to the Campo Viejo’s Streets of Spain food festival.
As I passed by on this ocassion, this homeless woman (who I pass by virtually everyday from work) burst into tears telling the passer by who was talking to her “….and they have left me here on the streets….”. The man huge her after the photo was taken and I had passed by. She sits next to a local church in Camden, reading books. I have never seen her beg for money.
Camden High Road
Seen as she sold a copy of the Big Issue to a man dressed in the red of Ferrari.
On Oxford street, adjusting the cardboard note he had put up