Homelessness, is very much on my mind today, not least in response to this rather bleak, Autumnal weather. Drizzling rain and cold mornings are not a welcome start to the day, and induce some early morning inertia that is hard to shake off. For the homeless, this Autumnal weather is but the start of desperate times to come, heralding as it does, the onset of a steady decline into Winter.
Today I sat in a cafe in my local town, waiting on the arrival of Lee, a young homeless man, who has been living in the streets of various towns, for almost three years now. I have offered brief moments of support, over the years, and we are now on first name terms, and Lee invariably comes over, or calls across the street, if he sees me. In a supermarket carpark, at the weekend, I had one such encounter with Lee, and we caught up, in some or other fashion, and I made the offer of having coffee with him in his favourite cafe and passing on some clothes, that I thought might help. He seemed terribly pleased at the prospect of the chance to chat.
Over the past four months, I have made a pledge to put in sufficient money for a hot breakfast for Lee, each week, at a cafe of his choice. It is always the same cafe. The staff are always cheery and compassionate, in an understated way. It is not much, but it is perhaps some respite in the long and lonely days. I hoped, also, that in choosing a cafe, it may encourage Lee to seek out company, something that he shuns in everyday life.
In conversation, it seems that Lee first became homeless after his mother’s death. He was unable to cope alone, and did not keep his job, his first employment since leaving school. He had some years of decline into drug abuse and has lost one companion, a fellow gentleman of the streets, who it is said, died of a drug-related incident. I wonder at his lack of family, at his total absence of support, in the sense that most of us take for granted – friends, relatives, neighbours.
It is difficult to know what has come first, grief, homelessness, drug abuse, unemployment, that has led to his almost total exclusion from mainstream society, but in reality, I think it matters little. These things have happened to Lee and he lives the consequences daily. He is 22, or maybe 23. It is a little while since I asked him his age.
Lee did not arrive today, at the cafe, but when he does, there will be a breakfast waiting for him (a credit at the till) and a bag of clothes, including socks, shirts and jumpers, that I hope may make some difference to his day. His cleanliness, is not good. I noticed, last time we chatted, the poor state of his teeth. He has one huge army style bag he carries his few possessions around in. He has always, (something he is always eager to talk about) a library book. He has been reading stories about a young Sherlock Holmes of late. He is allowed to take books from the local library but is limited to one book at a time, given his state of homelessness.
I imagine, for the homeless, that time has little consequence or significance. I suggested a morning meeting time, to coincide with my own travels and agenda for the day, but in reality, on this bleak Autumnal day, it is much better that Lee sleeps and wakes at what time he will.
Still, there is this feeling, niggling away like a sore tooth, that what I offer, what I do, is not enough. But for now, it is my own, manageable and personal response to what blights us colectively, as a society – the ever present misery of the plight of the homeless.