I know no other way to do this than through the filter of my own egocentricity, so that’s what I’ll do; but I want you to finally SEE Jenny – my wonderful, whip-smart, wise-cracking, tough-as-nails friend. You already know that she’s homeless, because goodness knows I’ve talked about it enough. You already know there’s a GoFundMe campaign to try to raise £10,000 for her to get married and (more importantly) get somewhere to live.
I suspect at some point she will tell her own story, as she is also apparently a writer.
But I want you to see her. And Gabriel. In their ‘home’ – an alcove of the 13th Century Old Walls in my city. A ‘home’ with a brick back and a cardboard front, and no…well…no anything, except what they can beg, borrow, adapt or scrounge. A ‘home’ which when Gabriel has convulsions because of a suspected brain injury, he can fall through the box wall into the public car-park which the old wall is a border of. A home with a scavenged toddler’s pushchair as an extra seat. A ‘home’ where Jenny has made a purple craft-paper window, cut into four, and stuck it in between the box/cupboard/bricks which make up the front, because sometimes even a homeless person wants to be able to look out of the window. And because purple. (Or, more likely, because that was what there was).
A ‘home’ where they’ve been for some weeks because the police made sure that their previous stoop got boarded up.
A ‘home’ I was invited into and shown around; the places where they store linen (charity shop discards) and food, and cutlery (plastic – pinched from fast food outlets whenever possible); and their nest of bedding and their suitcase of clothes and bags of odds and ends; and the little nooks and crannies between those ancient rocks, which now host sunglasses, Gabriel’s shaving mirror, and a plethora of discarded toys to brighten things up. And photos of Jenny’s beloved pets, which…well who knows where they are now.
A ‘home’ which made my heart ache, because so much care and attention had been put into constructing it, and because it was the best possible street home anyone could wish for, and so, so far removed from the cosy first-floor, clean-with-amenities flat that I was about to return to. Quickly, because it was raining and I hate rain.
So I left a smiling Jenny in her rain-spattered car-park with her box-walled house and her craft-paper window and I cycled home with a holey bin-liner of their washing (cos the day centre has a three week waiting list and one laundry volunteer (who keeps washing the towels because homeless people NEED SHOWERS, and that’s one of the things they provide)) and her phone, because the day centre doesn’t allow them long enough to charge batteries fully, and it had gone flat.
I put my bike in my shed and I walked through my garden, said hello to my nice neighbour, climbed my clean-safe stairs and unlocked my front door, dumped my shoes and bag, plugged in her phone and dragged the laundry to the kitchen. Where I shook the loose dirt from it and wrinkled my nose at the stink, and filled the machine with laundry liquid and soda crystals and hoped it would all come out clean. And then I scrubbed my hands free of the dirt and cringe of street-life engrained into cotton and transferred to skin.
And I cried:
I cried for my selfishness and abundance and the times when I don’t notice or care enough to help;
I cried for the accidents of birth and happenstance which mean I’m here and not out there;
I cried for the times when I obsess about such stupid things like worth and deserving and fat…and how there’s no headspace for such luxuries when you need to adapt to survive;
I cried because I knew I never could, and because I don’t have to;
I cried because I care, and caring hurts, and even though Love Wins, sometimes what it needs is money, which I don’t have enough of to fix this;
I cried because this isn’t the only thing I can’t fix, and all the hurts of the world came piling into my heart and smashed it to a bajillion tiny pieces;
And I cried because I hurt so much that I needed to shut down and sleep and could do so on a comfy-cosy sofa, under a warm blanket, in my own home – not a city car-park under the elements.
When I woke up, I ate a sombre dinner, texting and messaging with friends who boosted me and helped me realise a tiny bit that even though I’d managed to make my encounter somehow all about me, I wasn’t an awful, useless, horrible person.
And I realised one thing, overwhelmingly: I AM SO FUCKING LUCKY, because the causes of homelessness are so varied and awful, and there’s no reason it couldn’t be me, and at one point in my life, were it not for my friends-and-relations, it might have been me.
So I thanked my friends for caring about me. I thanked God for caring about me. I didn’t thank my family yet for looking after me and loving me, but I will. And I decided that something I *knew* I could do for Jenny was to promote this campaign with a bit more fervour and dedication.
Because yes, it needs exposure and love…but it really does need money, too.
I promise you a GLORIOUS thank you, if you chip in and help.
And if we succeed, then the best thank-you of all:
Jenny, in a real home.
THANK YOU, you marvellous human.
Also, if you want it (and because I do), I made a fund-raising button for your sidebar. Take the image from here and link it to the GoFundMe Campaign. And THANK YOU if you do this, too.