Often in society today, it’s all too easy to walk past the homeless person begging on the street without giving them a second glance.
I’ve heard various opinions on this issue: they should get a job, they choose to be homeless, and these people want to live on benefits.
Many years ago, for reasons I won’t go into, I was homeless.
I spent a number of years squatting in Hackney, East London – at the time one of the most deprived boroughs in London.
And when I say squatting, I don’t mean the film version depicted in the movie “Trainspotting.”
Admittedly, never progressed to the begging stage, but I mean real squatting – living in mostly rundown council properties with no running water, holes in the roof, cement poured down the toilet by the local authority, and no control over who you actually lived with.
On top of this, I developed a serious alcohol habit, and if you didn’t wash for a week, there were far more pressing issues – such as, would I be sleeping under a roof that week, or on a park bench?
I’ve lived with heroin addicts, drug dealers, National Front admirers, rapists, and spent far more time than I wanted to resuscitating people after heroin overdoses.
While living this lifestyle, I’ve been arrested by police carrying out an illegal eviction while barely out of my teens, told by disgruntled neighbours that unless we moved immediately, they would burn the house down while we slept, and had to deal with one of my suicidal housemates actually setting fire to a flat while I was sleeping.
But I digress.
In Hackney at the time, there were many empty properties.
Many of these stayed empty for years.
All this while the housing list got steadily longer.
All the time I was squatting, I asked myself if we could squat property after empty property, why was I seeing on the news there weren’t enough houses to go around?
I’ve been fortunate to have lived in a lot of locations all over the UK, and witnessed many boarded up council houses, often with familiar steel grills covering door and windows.
In light of this, I firmly believe that here in the UK, no one needs to be homeless.
If there truly wasn’t enough housing stock to go around, I and others wouldn’t have been able to squat for as long as we did.
The one thing I will take from those days is this: when I was homeless and getting food from soup kitchens, church handouts and literally stealing discarded food from skips at the back of Marks & Spencer, people view you a little different.
There have been times during this period when I seriously contemplated suicide – even got to the stage of having knife in hand, deciding which wrist to cut first.
Luckily, still here.
Since then, I’ve spent the past 20 years working in care, and people’s perspective changes.
People that talk to me now probably wouldn’t have given me the time of day then.
We are so quick to judge others on race, appearance, disability, circumstance, sexuality.
None of this really has a bearing on what kind of person you really are.
Following on from this, I’m often asked why I’m so calm nowadays.
The answer is simple: My past has been filled with witnessing people injecting heroin and overdosing, suicide attempts being brought to my attention (complete with spurting blood), drunken people trying to stab me, and regular stop and searches by the police.
After all those experiences, I really don’t have anything now to get upset about.
So while I’ve watched people over the years do anything to climb the career ladder, or fuck someone over to get that promotion or pay rise, or invest all their time in material things, I’ve come to realize that life is far more important than that.
Some things stay with you.
Copyright © Mark A. McPherson 2012.
All Rights Reserved.