Following Phoebe

Beneath the Shiny London Exterior: Culture Shock and Homelessness

Photo credit 1

If you know me you'll know that I have recently moved with my husband to work in London.
It's a pretty fun city, very busy, always a lot going on, and so many famous landmarks, places and people. But since living here for the last 2 months I have found something that makes me unsettled.

People here are very good at ignoring the suffering in this city. But I think you have to be to live here and not get seriously depressed. Maybe it's just the culture shock of moving from little Tasmania to big ol' London, but this is something that is really bothering me.

A couple of weeks ago there was a bombing on an underground train. It might have been talked about on the day...but the day after? The only sign that something had happened was a couple of signs reminding people to report unattended bags. It was so strange to me that it was not at least something for people to talk about, but still, I was amongst those catching the train on the day it happened as well as the days following. If you arrived the day after you could be forgiven for thinking nothing had happened. Life was as usual, and sooner than I thought.

The thing that is really distressing to me that is ignored here is the homelessness. There are some homeless people in Hobart (where I'm from), but it's nothing like London. There are homeless people everywhere here. Going to and from work every day I will see between 4 and 10 people sitting on the ground begging for money.
There are a couple of people who I have come across who will ask for money on the train. One man asked the train carriage I was in for money and said that his shoes had been stolen while he was sleeping. He was trying to assure people that he wouldn't spend any money people gave him on drugs or alcohol, which is a big reason it seems that people don't give money to people like him. One woman told the carriage I was in that someone had set fire to her sleeping bag while she was asleep, she had been badly burned and had nowhere to sleep now.

It's so heart breaking. But people will often look away and ignore people who are asking for money. I always feel so horrible when I have someone who asks me for money but I am in a hurry or don't have any cash on me.

I don't know if it's naïve to give people money...but I just can't bear that these people have nowhere to live, and possibly no-one who is able to help them out of this situation they find themselves in. Especially as the weather is getting colder now.

So I have done some research and it's recommended that if you see someone sleeping rough that you call Streetlink and let them know so that they can help them out. Although it is also recommended to talk to the person before you call so that they know there is someone coming to help them. Which makes sense to me, but I can also understand feeling strange about talking to someone you don't know!

An article from the Telegraph I read reported that a spokesperson from St Mungos, an organisation which helps the homeless, has said that giving money is up to personal conscience. But it's good to be aware that often young people can be exploited and forced to beg by gangs. Often the best option is to talk to them and try to get them some help through Streetlink or a local organisation near you.
They also say that long term help like financial support or volunteering is the most important thing so that there are the resources to help people in need.

As a Christian I am also conscious that I know that they need spiritual help for their eternal wellbeing. Helping people in this life is really important and God calls us to do it, but where they are when their time on earth is over is much more important! So I'm trying to figure out what I can carry with me to have conversations with people. Possibly little gospel books, £5 and some information to contact a shelter...I really want to be able to help in a real way other than giving spare change when I have it and feeling bad when I don't.

Anyway. Some musings on my culture-shocked, burdened conscience. I'll try to update you on whether I figure out how to do this, and work up the courage to actually talk to people who are in trouble.


  1. Photo by Adrien Ledoux on Unsplash

Laura Haines
Author

Laura Haines

Laura is a Christian, a wife, a daughter. She has a BBehavSci and GradDipCouns. She works as an International Student Worker at St Helen's Bishopsgate, London.