This article fails to fully grasp that mistakes by the political mafia have made homelessness
much worse. In the UK ALL major parties have failed the homeless and none of them can be proud
of their record that has seen every more of the population trying to survive without a roof
over their head. A scandal and a lot to do with the vicious family court laws that see men
lose their assets and homes en masse.
FULL ARTICLE HERE
This Friday, I will be getting up at the crack of dawn to start eight days of volunteering at a homeless shelter in Kings Cross, North London for the charity Crisis. My duties will include, amongst other things, manning the main gate, serving food, cleaning toilets and generally befriending and chatting to the guests, in order to try and give them both a happy, memorable Christmas and a safe, warm respite from their unenviable lives on the streets.
Why am I telling you this? I’m not trying to brag, crow or, to coin that marvellous Jamaican vernacular term, big up my chest. I am by no means an anomaly. Far from it. Up and down the country, thousands of other people of all colours, classes and backgrounds will have also volunteered to man countless other homeless shelters - conclusive proof (if it were needed) that when it comes to charity, Brits are a pretty selfless and giving bunch, especially at Christmas. Britain is, by my reckoning at least, a nation of people with big hearts and deep pockets.
So why do I do it, I hear you ask, when I could instead be lounging in front of the telly on Christmas Day watching the Bond film after the Queen’s speech or enjoying a tranquil post-prandial snooze on a belly replete with turkey and mince pies? Well, it’s actually very simple.
For a start, homelessness is on the increase. There are currently an estimated 45,000 homeless people in the UK, with over 10,000 in London alone. I’ve volunteered every Christmas for the last five years, as homelessness is a cause close to my heart. As an ardent humanist, I fully subscribe to the tenet so beautifully articulated in the African-American proverb that 'Service is the rent we pay for living.'
As a freelance writer and broadcaster, (i.e. someone with perennially parlous finances), I am acutely aware that I am only a couple of delayed pay cheques away from being unceremoniously evicted from my flat by the avaricious landlord and my entire worldly belongings (books and records, mainly) being dumped on the pavement. After a spot of couch surfing with friends, I imagine that the street would beckon with a menacing and unforgiving alacrity.
Moreover, as a classicist, I am all too painfully aware of the mutability of the fickle goddess Fortune. One minute everything is great and things are peachy; the next, life unexpectedly throws you a curve ball and you’re down on your luck. No-one is immune from Fortune’s predatory, indiscriminate and essentially arbitrary clutches.
The homeless man in Waterloo with the mottled face, the unkempt hair and the can of Tenants who, if we are honest, most of us go out of our way to avoid when he asks for change, could easily be me, or for that matter you, in a couple of months, let alone years, if Fortune doesn’t smile on us. Furthermore, given the current economic meltdown, who can really say with any degree of certainty that their job (and with it, their income and the roof over their heads) is secure?
Plus, as someone with the blood of Africa coursing through their veins, I positively loathe and abhor the cold with a passion. Hence I feel a profound sympathy for anyone who has the misfortune to have to sleep rough in these freezing temperatures.
Anyway, trying to ensure that others can enjoy, if only for eight days, what we all normally take for granted 365 days of the year - like warm clothes, a hot meal in a safe environment and some affable companionship - just seems like the right, normal and obvious thing to do. No medals for uncommon valour or extraordinary heroism required.
But one of the things which does increasingly irk me about volunteering is that over the years I’m constantly being mistaken for a tofu-munching, liberal do-gooder. I mean, do I seriously look like a sandal-wearing, vegetarian, Guardian-reader to you?
There seems to be this exceedingly prevalent (yet wholly erroneous) notion in the popular consciousness that only left-wingers have active social consciences and do stuff for charity. Hence my gripe. I’m fed up with people assuming my politics are of a certain shade.
Not only that. If I’m honest, I’m tired of left-wingers having the monopoly in the public consciousness of being seen to do charitable things with their time, and thus by extension, being perceived as the only ones who are nice, good and fundamentally decent people. It’s not that I worry per se about what other people think (I don’t). But to modify that great line from King Lear, sadly, perception, not ripeness, is all.
At this time of year, it’s important to stress that right wing types aren’t all callous, heartless sociopaths with devil’s horns, red capes and demonic grins, utterly devoid of pity for the plight of their fellow man. To be sure, some are.
Call me naive, but I like to think that the majority of socially conservative British men and women possess a fully functioning moral compass, genuine integrity and hearts full of compassion for the less fortunate - a compassion which readily translates into either regular financial donations to charity or into giving of their time to worthy causes. One can be both right wing and a humanist committed to helping others. The two are, thankfully, not mutually exclusive.
We urgently need to disabuse people of the fatuous notion that it is only left-leaning, Guardian-reading types who do things like volunteering. Of course, many good folk on the left do a lot of excellent work for charity, but equally many like to get irate about social injustice and make lots of noise, but then rarely bother to get their hands dirty. Instead they leave that to other people, which is more than a bit patronizing and morally flabby.
Over the years, I’ve noticed, by a cursory glance at the reading material of choice of my fellow volunteers, that the backbone of the volunteer army - the really dependable “rain or shine” stalwarts who give up huge swathes of their time (and often money) to give something back - is actually made up of men and women of a socially conservative bent. But should this really come as that much of a surprise? I think not. We only need to look back through history to see that there is a strong branch of the Tory right which has philanthropy, social justice and humanistic values of charity and giving enshrined in its core.
The right is, on closer inspection, mercifully populated with people who are keen to do their civic duty and, in that much quoted but laudable phrase, be 'part of the solution, not part of the problem.' They are not exclusively, as the left would readily have us believe, a bunch of misanthropic, rapacious, social pariahs who carry oranges under their noses so as not to be able to smell the poor, concerned only for their own worldly advancement and materialistic gain.
Now of course, in terms of the bigger picture, it clearly doesn’t matter a fig which side of the political spectrum one is on, so long as you make the effort to volunteer or to give something back to society, and in so doing help others who are less fortunate. The only thing that really matters in life is that you do some tangible good to ameliorate our world and the lot of the people living in it, thereby subscribing to the Stoic and humanist notion of the brotherhood of man.
So this Christmas, don’t believe the hype! Allow your perceptions of what constitutes a 'do-gooder' to be challenged and broadened and let us desist from this facile and reductive pigeon-holing when it comes to those who try and make a positive difference. Those on the right are not all selfish, heartless, 'every man for himself' individuals. Many will be out volunteering this Christmas – proof that those of a socially conservative disposition can, and actively do believe in giving back and helping others.
Whatever your political persuasion, have a very merry Christmas. Be safe, be joyful, be loving and above all, be thankful that you are not homeless.
To find out more about volunteering your time or to make a donation to the homeless charity Crisis, visit www.crisis.org.uk or call freephone 08000 199 099