I Should Have Bought A Hat

24 May
A homeless man in Paris

Image via Wikipedia

Should you help homeless people? Why or why not?

This prompt came in a week or so ago.  I’ve been mulling it over.  My answer is: yes, to a point.

We have been homeless.  Not in the living-on-the-street way, but in the having-nowhere-to-live way. 

When we came over to the UK  from South Africa in 1996 we had plenty of money and thought getting a house would be no problem.  We were wrong.  No one wanted to rent privately to us because we had no employment and no British references.  The council waiting list was long.  We were at number 23, which doesn’t sound too far down, but we stayed at number 23 for eight months.  Some people had greater needs, I guess.  Fair enough.

The Hub’s brother and his family gave up two bedrooms for us: The Hub and I, with Spud in a cot, were in one room; and Tory Boy was in a box room.  We crammed those rooms full of our stuff. 

We were grateful; we were grateful for eight months but it was difficult and it took a toll on our relationship.  I once screamed at the Hub, in front of his family and our sons, ‘I hate you.’  I threw Spud’s full bottle of milk at my husband, and when it missed, I walked over, picked it up, and threw it again.

We went for counselling.  That was a disaster.  She thought I had an issue with my weight and every time we saw her the first thing she did was compliment me on my looks and ask if I had lost weight, when I knew I hadn’t.  Consequently, I didn’t trust her.  The Hub and I said hurtful things to each other in the name of getting it all out in the open.  Things better left unsaid.  It’s why I’m not a fan of counselling, though I concede there are times when it might be essential.

At one session the counsellor took my part.  That was our last session: I wanted help to make peace in my marriage, not allies in the war against my husband.  She phoned me to apologise and said that she felt rather confused herself.  I suspect she may have been in the wrong job.

The Hub and I took matters into our own hands: we got doctors’ reports detailing how the situation was affecting us and our hosts.  We asked the Hub’s brother to throw us out, which he may have wanted to do, but didn’t; instead, he wrote a letter threatening to throw us out, and I hope he would have had the goodness to follow through on it, because I’d had enough. 

A couple of weeks later we had a phone call, offering us this house.  A week later, we were in it.  We were the fourth family to be offered the house as it was in some disrepair and other people weren’t as desperate: I’d have taken a garden shed by then.  It was a palace, if palaces come with fourteen layers of wallpaper hanging from the bathroom walls and scraggy underlay stuck to the cheap floor tiles.  Rather like I imagine Saddam Hussein’s palace must have looked after the looters came, albeit on a smaller scale.

It was a mess.  I didn’t care: I had a home at last.  We’ve cleaned it up and decorated it and it’s still a mess, but now it’s our mess. 

The area we live in is quite nice for council estates; we get bother but not nearly as much as some.  Most of the houses in our cul-de-sac are privately owned and the people look after them.  We are part of a friendly community.

A bonus was to get three bedrooms: with two boys under twelve, we were entitled to a two-bedroomed house only; it was our good fortune not to be picky about the state of this one.

My answer is qualified because I think the great kindness given to us kept us in our situation.  We were fortunate to have generous relatives but their kindness was such that we might have stayed there forever.  That would have done none of us any favours. We needed to make our situation change or we’d have been there still.  The greatest kindness they could have done would have been eviction.  The council would then have been legally obliged to house us.

Some say there is no need to live on the streets in this country because there is help available, but the help is not as forthcoming as it should be: the council saw that we had two rooms and felt that was all we needed, never mind the emotional toll on two families.  People don’t make themselves homeless for the fun of it: sometimes, they bring it about by accident, as we did; or circumstances force it upon them, such as when youngsters are brutalised at home.  Those youngsters often have a mistrust of authority as a result, so why would they ask for help?  And how would they know where to go for it?

The measure of a society is how it treats the vulnerable.  I’d say British society needs to work on that a bit.

33 Responses to “I Should Have Bought A Hat”

  1. vivinfrance May 24, 2011 at 11:32 #

    Thank you for being so honest with us, Tilly – it drives home the point which pussyfooting would have left us doubting. You have had a horrendous time – then and now – so your constant humour is all the more surprising (and therapeutic?).


    • Tilly Bud May 24, 2011 at 19:38 #

      I don’t really consider it horrendous; difficult, maybe. But who in life hasn’t struggled at some point? We all have problems; many people face problems much worse than I’ve ever seen. I feel blessed to have a loving husband, two healthy sons, a roof over my head and food on the table. So many don’t have what I have, or even part. What more can I ask for?


  2. mairedubhtx May 24, 2011 at 11:43 #

    Thank you for telling your story. That’s similar to the stories of families in our homeless shelters. We have no councils or council housing here in the States. You can go to the shelter if there’s room, but men and women and children are separated. You can live in your car, or in the park. The US has a terrible homeless problem. Regular people don’t understand that families are homeless. We are in worse shape in helping the homeless than the UK.


    • Tilly Bud May 24, 2011 at 19:39 #

      It is shocking to me that such a wealthy nation allows it to happen.


  3. Cindy May 24, 2011 at 11:47 #

    What a story, Tilly. There but for the grace of God, and all that … Still, Britain is farther along than South Africa, there’s a lot of work to be done yet.


    • Tilly Bud May 24, 2011 at 19:40 #

      I’ve seen it, Cindy. There is a lot of work to be done, and not just in South Africa.


  4. frizztext May 24, 2011 at 12:25 #

    in my head: “Streets of London” (by Ralph McTell?)


    • Tilly Bud May 24, 2011 at 19:41 #

      I haven’t heard of him but I know that fellow who did all the whistling sang it; I think he was a Roger.


  5. eof737 May 24, 2011 at 13:03 #

    Compared to many other countries the world, Britain is doing a pretty good job of housing its neediest… I’m glad your brother in law didn’t evict you because it might not have gotten you a home but probably worse digs somewhere else….
    Homelessness is a depressing situation and most people fall into it purely through misfortune. I agree that we should help them without judgement because, as the saying goes, but for the grace of God go all of us… 🙂


    • Tilly Bud May 24, 2011 at 19:42 #

      We would have been housed in a flat in an unpleasant part of Stockport, but it would have been ours, and temporary. Things worked out well for us, in the end. I’m grateful for that.


  6. slpmartin May 24, 2011 at 16:23 #

    I suspect most societies require some work along those lines.


  7. earlybird May 24, 2011 at 16:52 #

    Good post. I hope that counsellor changed jobs.


  8. Pseu May 24, 2011 at 17:28 #

    Thank you for sharing your story.

    I often wonder about giving money directly to those in the streets, or whether it is better to give the money to a workforce or charity which works with the homeless. The group Emmaus Oxford, http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/emmausoxford/ do a great deal of good work.


    • Tilly Bud May 24, 2011 at 19:49 #

      Shelter is a good charity to give to; they help people with all kinds of housing problems.


  9. Denise May 24, 2011 at 18:15 #

    Hello Tilly, this is an eye-opener and I think you must be an amazing lady to be so honest with us out here. I get tired of people who are non-sympathetic to the plight of our homeless. Thankfully it doesn’t crop up too often, the unkind remarks. There are a lot of homeless on the streets in Washington DC. Yes their situation could be due to drinking, drugs, mental illness but people are far too quick to judgement and I’m a big believer in ‘walk a mile in their shoes’ before you say one word. We just don’t know how it all came about and hopefully there will be more help for them in the future. There are a lot of good people out there trying to do just that.


    • Tilly Bud May 24, 2011 at 19:51 #

      Hello Denise and welcome! Yes, there are all kinds of reasons and I think we’d be put to find anyone who makes themselves homeless out of anything other than desperation.


  10. gigihawaii May 24, 2011 at 18:22 #

    There is a terrible homeless problem in Hawaii. Nowadays, the police even evict the homeless from the beaches and parks. These poor people are constantly on the move. Where can they go? Yes, there are homeless shelters, but there are problems with those, too.


    • Tilly Bud May 24, 2011 at 19:52 #

      That’s true, and all the more reason for us to blog about it, raising awareness.


  11. viewfromtheside May 24, 2011 at 21:46 #

    moving to a new country can be even harder than planned, and you guys seemed to have planned quite well.

    Some people believe life is as easy for everyone as it is for themselves, and that is just NOT True


    • Tilly Bud May 25, 2011 at 10:07 #

      I think most people have difficult lives at some point; it teaches us to be grateful for the good times 🙂


  12. kateshrewsday May 24, 2011 at 22:31 #

    I’d agree with you, Tilly. What a struggle for you when you first came back – a terrible pressure.
    Glad things worked out well for you all.


  13. Perfecting Motherhood May 25, 2011 at 05:54 #

    If you think the UK doesn’t take good care of its vulnerable people, don’t ever think about what happens in the US… Thanks for sharing your story.


  14. nrhatch May 25, 2011 at 18:54 #

    Thanks for sharing, Tilly.

    It’s tough being a mother of young children without a “nest” to call your own. Glad that you and your husband managed to resolve the situation with only the occasional tossed bottle.

    Homelessness is an issue that affluent nations must address. Hunger is another.

    In the US, in New England, towns used to have Town Farms ~ locally run “shelters” where residents worked together to keep a roof over their heads and food in their bellies. Because the “contributed to their keep,” they had a purpose to get up in the morning and didn’t feel they were receiving a hand out. It was more of a hand up.

    More humane than state run shelters where people sit around with nothing to do but worry about the future.


    • Tilly Bud May 26, 2011 at 11:58 #

      They sound wonderful; rather like a kibbutz. What a shame they don’t exist any more.


  15. rebecca May 26, 2011 at 03:30 #

    Every day and in fact twice a day I drive past this older woman who has made a home/shelter under the freeway bridge. She seems to have a cat, but I don’t even know who to call to help her. It’s not really advertised where homeless people can get help. Its just really disturbing to see her living on the streets. She’s become invisible because no-one bother, not even law enforcement, to make it their business to help her.


    • Tilly Bud May 26, 2011 at 12:03 #

      How sad. Have you tried Googling your area to see if there’s anything? Maybe she’d be glad if you stopped and gave her a hot drink or meal.


  16. Melanie Lewicka June 2, 2011 at 12:17 #

    Thanks for sharing this with us. A very thoughtful piece. Laughed at the bit about the mariage counsellor! I had a consellor once at university & she was more confused than me I think. I think that profession perhaps attracts people who are in need of counselling themselves!



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