Guest Blog: Reflections on homelessness

by Steve Huckle, Brighton resident & FareShare supporterSteve Huckle

Admittedly, getting up at 4:30 am and driving for two hours wasn’t my exact definition of a great start to a day, but it meant I got to go snowboarding at an indoor snow centre, just north of London. Furthermore, I had just been shopping on George Street, Hove, where I’d found myself a rather nice second-hand merino cashmere jumper. Happy with my morning’s work, I headed back to my car to go home and have something to eat. Then I was going to freshen up with a quick nap. “It’s a hard life,” I thought, chuckling to myself.

It wasn’t merely the site of the young homeless man which shook me out of my reverie. It was his unmistakable air of dejection.  He was sat, propped up against a wall, with his head in his hands. Next to him was a rucksack full of dirty clothes and spread across his lap was a grubby sleeping bag. Some passers-by had quarter-filled a disheveled paper cup with a few copper coins.

1 in 69 people in Brighton & Hove are homeless according to a recent study by Shelter. Image by Berit Watkin
1 in 69 people in Brighton & Hove are homeless according to a recent study by Shelter. Image by Berit Watkin

I wanted to put some money in the cup myself, but I only had a £20 note, and since I’m a Ph.D. student (and not exactly awash with cash), my immediate reaction was: “that’s too much!” Instead, I went to my car, fished out £3 from my parking charge kitty in the glove compartment, and returned to hand it over. Afterwards, I regretted not just giving the £20; he needed it a lot more than me. I could have easily spared the cash.

“You look sad,” I told the man after he had thanked me for the money. “Well, yeah, look at me,” he replied, forlorn. There was nothing I could say in response. Instead, I looked him in the eye and tried to show that I cared.  Soon after, I shook a dirty hand and stood up to walk away. But before doing so, I turned back and said: “Stay safe.” I knew that was meaningless, really; safety for most of us means dressing in warm clothes, closing the front door to our centrally heated home, eating a home cooked evening meal and sleeping snuggled in a thick, fluffy duvet and a comfortable bed. That man’s reality was somewhat different. Worse was that I left feeling quite sure that he had had enough and was ready to step off this uncaring world. That realisation touched me, deeply. I returned to my car and cried.

Image by Rob_sg goo.gl/3lhllJ

A couple of days later, still struggling with the memory of the man’s desolation, I
was cycling home by the Angel Peace Statue, which marks the boundary between Brighton and Hove, just at the time when some volunteers were feeding a group of twenty or so homeless people. A few hundred yards before I had passed another group of twenty or so people who were paying £15 a head for the privilege of being propelled into the sky on the i360. I began pondering the contrast between the two groups. Then it dawned on me that I should stop merely contemplating the growing issue of inequality in the UK. Rather, just like those helping with the soup van by the Angel, I should do something positive. And just as I made that commitment, a van passed me, emblasoned with the logo of FareShare Sussex.

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I looked up FareShare as soon as I got home. I found out that they’re a charity that fights hunger, tackles food waste and supports disadvantaged volunteers. They sounded great, so the next morning, I emailed them and asked if I could help. I got a reply not long after, telling me that I could make a donation or fill out a form for the volunteer waiting list (or both). I immediately set up a monthly direct debit of £10, but I never did fill out a volunteer form because, after a few more e-mail exchanges, I agreed to write some copy for FareShare, in the shape of some blog posts on their website.

This is the first of what I hope are many more blog posts where I want to tell some personal stories and help raise awareness of the growing problem of homelessness and hunger in Sussex. Perhaps, one day, there will be no young men on the streets of Brighton who have given up all hope. In the meantime, we need organisations such as FareShare; I’m pleased to make a small contribution to their cause.

If you are inspired to donate to FareShare Sussex, find out how here.