A walk down my high street tells a story of how times have changed. I am greeted by an accordion dirge which I cannot escape – loud, depressing and cheap sounding – perhaps like being in Eastern Europe somewhere. I move on to a very loud singer repeating the same song over and over – so loud she can be heard in the church opposite as if in the same room! Walking away I gets better – and I reach the trumpeter who was actually quite talented and playing a song that would appeal to older people, reminding me of my grandmother –‘The way you look tonight’ – if he had been the only one it would have been OK. But he was soon drowned out by a guitarist/singer nearby ….

Do any of them consider the effect on pedestrians? No – they only want our money – and somehow they think the louder they are the more likely they are to get it. That wasn’t the end of course … there are now not one but three people selling the Big Issue – none of them British – and yet I thought it was a means to getting homeless people off the street?

To be honest I have read so many stories about the way this is abused that I walk on by – something I would not have done a few years ago! Then there are the ‘beggars’ who look the same everywhere l go – young men staggering about with tiny undersized crutches holding their hands out. Hmmm … usually from Bulgaria according to the press. I mean if you are legally here and disabled you are looked after with properly sized crutches and benefits, no?

And if not careful you will trip over women on the ground saying ‘please’ and holding out a pot – I’m not being mean (I hope), I am just overwhelmed! In fact, I find it confusing and on a bad day upsetting. But where has it all come from, and so suddenly?

We live in a generous country with high employment and good benefits, so why are so many begging on the street? And why are the majority clearly not British – many not speaking any English? How did they get here?

Of course we have all read the stories of gangs sending people out to beg. I used to stop to talk to them and ask why they were begging, what their circumstances were etc, as you would with a British beggar – but then I read that many are controlled by gangs who watch them all day so they cannot answer truthfully and of course we may be in danger by trying to interfere.

I remember a few winters ago making a decision to try to help every beggar I saw near my workplace. The first – a Romanian – accepted money and food but when I offered winter clothing threw it on the ground. Same with the details of a hostel on a notepaper.  I asked Streetlink to help twice. When I enquired they said he had ‘problems’ and couldn’t be helped – in other words he didn’t want to conform or go to a hostel, he just wanted money. On my last attempt he said he saw no reason to work or pay tax or rent or to go back to Romania – no, he would stay here and scrounge what he could from genuine or guilty feeling wealthy shoppers who would pay a fiver for the Big Issue …!

I did speak to two young English blokes sleeping rough – alternately sofa surfing with friends and sleeping out – they were saying they had problems at home so ended up on the street. One was trying to get on a course and the other was being helped to get a job. They disappeared eventually – plenty of people bought them hot drinks/food/gave money and I hope they moved on to a better life.

Sometimes there are homeless Veterans – I really don’t understand how they’re not a priority for Hostels! Why aren’t we queueing up to help them? Has our country lost its heart? Some have mental health issues from their experiences, but shouldn’t we go out of our way to help them?

We do get genuine buskers too – quality musicians trying to make a few quid while studying or waiting for their big break! A welcome relief … My local area is the worst – a nice shopping area now swamped by a huge market – loud and smelly – hosting events with people shouting over music. Really not making for an enjoyable Saturday! And as for the English language? Rarely heard, sometimes not even in shops. I used to complain but am now worn down.

It feels that at every turn a foreign ‘beggar’ will lurch out and ask for money but you cannot speak for fear of reprisal. And on the train – the women laying out tissue boxes asking for cash have started again, and young men walk through asking for money – becoming abusive if none is offered.

The effect of this is making us hard-hearted as we have no idea who is genuine and who isn’t. We can’t talk to them in case gang leaders are watching, and we cannot help our own with money in case it’s spent on drugs. The police told me there are enough hostels in London for everyone – so why aren’t they used? Sometimes I feel confused, selfish and mean, but I know most that ask for money are not genuine.

Heading home I spot a homeless lady I’ve seen before. She has a trolley containing her belongings and sleeps at the bus stop. I walk over – ‘Can I buy you a cup of tea?’ I ask. ‘Yes please’ – selfishly I feel better – perhaps I can be redeemed, soften my heart, and help someone who really needs it but would never ask … I hope so …

 

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