Transparent and Unwanted: homeless people in the Capital

I am in Costa Coffee, in the heart of Oxford Street. I have my nose buried in my notebook, hand scribbling lines of letters and symbols. My pen is hovering above the page for a second, and then heads back down.
Suddenly the air in the room feels different; heavier. I look up, and trail the gazes of the staff and customers. They all seem to focus on a walking target. A homeless woman just made her way in the store. The team look at each other, silently deciding who will escort her out; the customers clasped their pockets, ensured their bags were closed, and hid their phones from her view. She kept walking, until she was stopped and asked to leave. She looked up, turned around, and disappeared in the street. The song playing on the speakers was John Lennon‘s imagine, and for a second, while the rest of the room was silent, it was deafeningly loud.

Two nights ago, I was walking down Regent Street, lost in reliving a very busy day. I was wearing 4 layers of clothing, and still the cold found its way to touch my skin, kissing my bones with its icy lips. I was so wrapped around my own issues, I almost tripped on someone’s leg on the floor. I turned around to apologise, and saw this young man, wearing a dirty shirt and a hoodie, siting inside a sleeping bag. On his lap he had a book and a McDonalds burger. His eyes were closed, his hands unclasping from their bond, finishing praying before eating his meal. Behind him the models of the GAP window were standing still, looking out at a life they were not living. I took a few more steps, stopped, and took a deep breath in from my nose. I was going back to a warm house, a loving partner and a hot meal. I thought back at the problems that engulfed me minutes ago, and felt a small pang of shame.

It is amazing to observe how others react around homeless people; how we react around homeless people. The shake of the head when asked for money; the refusal to look straight in the eye; being busy trying to look busy. I read an article recently discussing homeless people during the Olympics, and how it is not good for the city’s image. It went on to explore suggestions, one of them to move them temporarily in other cities, as if they were furniture one moves for a dinner party. Throughout the article, they were discussed as props, inconveniences and trouble. Words that filled a paragraph on a page.

They are people. Human beings. They are made from the same skin and flesh and bones and feelings that make you and me humans.

I am not asking the big questions; debating whether or not to give them money if they ask; wonder what brought them to this state; preach about what to do. These are issues bigger than me, and I could never claim to fully understand or be able to answer them.

I am only saying that being human involves behaving in a humane way. Acknowledge someone’s presence, physically and universally. Be in touch with our own biases, and judge if we want to overcome them or not. I know I do.




23 thoughts on “Transparent and Unwanted: homeless people in the Capital

  1. Thanks for your words, MS! I was reading just this morning in a text called “Shelter Blues” by R. Desjarlais that discussed this VERY kind of incident. He describes the ways we are prone to see those who we assume to be homeless as caricatures of persons, rather than as persons. And since they become cartoons of “homelessness,” their humanity doesn’t feel at stake when they are thought about or treated or looked at in certain ways. Of course, as Freire would suggest, our humanity is at stake when a homeless man or woman’s humanity is at stake!

    Timely. Thanks.


  2. We live in a calloused world where it seems, the corrupt flourish, while the common man swirls further down the drain of despair. I suspect a good number of people living in the street (world wide, at least in established societies) once had homes, and probably decent jobs too. Fate can slap any of us from our pedestals as she pleases. And because we are not immune to fate, it would be wise to treat ALL people with respect, with gratitude, that we are indeed, better off than many others are. I remember going to Washington D.C. one year for the 4th of July celebration. The ‘Lawn’ was filled with tents housing homeless families. The News Anchors covering the story of the celebrations made sure the homeless population was behind their cameras, so as not to be seen. People should be made aware of the ever increasing number of families that are just trying to survive. And even if we can’t or won’t help, treating others with respect costs nothing. This is a worthwhile and informative post on your part. Thanks for sharing.

      1. It doesn’t surprise me a bit that the major media hides such facts. They manipulate the public and reveal, or distort facts to suit their agenda. If you look into it, you will find that the major media outlets are run by the same elite that are maneuvering the various Nations into the NWO. I know that sounds like a conspiracy, but if you seek the truth through documentaries and other sources, you are more apt to see the true picture of what is really happening to our Nation. One such source is
        Two videos I’d start with are “The Money Masters” and “The Prison Industrial Complex; The War on Drugs”. Both videos are well worth the time to view. They don’t really have anything to do with homelessness, but they do shine a light on how our government and the private bankers operate together to manipulate the people. And our government is behind the massive homeless many are facing in this Nation today through their interference in the housing market an in the debt they’ve accumulated through endless, needless, illegal, wars. Ron Paul is one of the few politicians on the hill that tried to divert us from both the housing bubble and entry into the war with Iraq. He predicted the outcome of both tragedies years before the fact. Let me know if you would like the links to his floor speeches and I’ll be happy to post them for you.

  3. I hear you. Unfortunately, fear plays a role in our reactions, legitimate or otherwise. In 1991, I woke to my clock radio delivering Monday morning news, talking on a murder on Saturday night. When they gave the name…it was a friend, husband of someone from whom I named myself when I crossed gender lines. I cannot say enough good things about her and he, and…he was gone.

    Eleven years later, on what turned out to be our 24th and last anniversary, my ex and I dined out. Our car was parked within 100 feet of where he had been murdered, pulling out of a parking spot by someone demanding money. I forgot my card in our vehicle, went out to get it, get in the car, and exactly how it happened with Robbie, someone knocked on my window. I was quite aware of place and history, and I’ll say without equivocation that window rap scared me silly. The person knocking asked for cash and I refused, since of course, I was heading off to an ATM machine for our evening, but also because of history. Take away the apprehension and suspicion, and yes… I’d extend a hand, goddess knows I do in life where possible.

    Reaching out is important, so too dignity. Unfortunately, so much goes on in this world that mucks up the works. 😦

    1. Oh Nelle, that sounds like a really difficult experience. And you know what? I absolutely understand, and agree, and behave the same way. If I was on that parking spot, I would have felt the same way. There are times that I jump when someone passes next to me when I walk home at night, just because I am so alert from all the stories I hear from the news.
      There was a couple one night that was coming towards me and I genuinely felt threatened. The woman asked me if I had any change. I said no, and for a moment I thought ‘you are two; I am one; I feel scared’. They nodded, and walked away. I breathed out and left.
      I absolutely understand how difficult it is to look past over all the things that muck up the whole image. But I think it is part of our human responsibility to at least try.
      I am really sorry for your friends’s husband. It sounds devastating.
      Thank you so much for you comment.

  4. I really enjoyed reading this post. Great perspective, view and wonderful writing style. I will be reading your posts from time to time πŸ˜‰

  5. Great piece, I watched in horror as people stepped over a man at Euston, pretending not to see him.

    My two boys aged 3&5 went over to the man to give him some of their pocket money for a hot drink ad it was so cold.

    He broke down in tears, movrd

    1. Oops dog decided that was the end of my post.

      The man was moved by their generosity but was ashamed at needing handouts.

      I sat next to him and comforted him, his words “I’m not a bad person, I lost my family”

      As I got up to leave he said my kids were a bright light in an otherwise dark day and he wished us well.

      He had better manners than those pushing past pretending not to see.

      1. wow, that was genuinely very touching. It is exactly as you say, you can not know what brought someone in this situation.

        Your two boys sound lovely, and so do you. (the dog sounds like he has an editorial flare as well :))

        thank you for the comment!

  6. Thank you for sharing this. It touched me because I am sometimes guilty of having such reactions towards them (more of ignoring them than anything else). For most of the time though, I succeed in overcoming my fright and paranoia. I just try to think that outside of my own bubble, there are people who have to deal with much greater problems than I do. With that humbling thought, I realized that being grateful is not enough. I feel the need to reach out or to simply acknowledge their presence like what you have mentioned.

    1. I absolutely agree. I mean, there are times that I can not give money, for a variety of reasons. But simply looking at someone in the eye, and showing a sign of acknowledgment can be, well, a bit more humane.


  7. thanks for the reminder, it is shameful of us to ignore them though their unfortunate plight has been on my mind more and more recently…. I hope that is a sign of the social consciousness creeping back into our society??

    1. Honestly, this reply really touched me. Thank you so much for taking the time to read it, show it to your friend and then letting me know. I makes me feel that people are listening. And that things might change. Thank you.

  8. What a lovely read. If ever Iam out and I have bought some food on the go and I can’t finish it, I don’t throw it away, I wait and see if I come across anyone who needs something to eat and I’ll go and ask them if they’ve had anything to fill their stomach. I think some people forget that it’s not always their fault. I really do sympathize.

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