Dave and Sam’s Story
Sam and I met in Manchester where at the time we both worked. Oddly enough, having grown up in England’s second-city it was the first time that I’d worked in a city centre after spending my career in the Cheshire countryside, Macclesfield, Erdington, Warrington and Leek – places that were far away from the hustle and bustle. The chance to go shopping at lunchtime in the run up to Christmas and nipping out to coffee shops was a welcome change.
By night however the city changed and something struck Sam and I really hard – the number of people living on the streets. It would be wrong to plant a political message within a personal story, but you have to wonder how on earth this can happen in one of the strongest economies on the planet. Dozens and dozens of people trying to brace themselves for the cold night ahead. Sam is one of those people who will try and help someone even if it is easier to walk on by and she would often start a conversation with a few of the folks on the street. “Are you ok?”, “Can I go get you anything?”. Sometimes the answer would be a simple ask for small change to buy a hot drink. Sometimes there was more of a conversation. Always the interactions were polite.
We’re well aware of the labels that sometimes get attached to homeless people and the linkage, perceived or real, to drugs and crime. For twenty years or more I have regularly bought the Big Issue. Inside the front cover there is always a story about one of the sellers and how they became homeless and how they coped on the streets – or not. I recall one man’s story about how he felt he had no choice but to take drugs each night because it took away the pain of the cold. For me, as a reader of the Big Issue, but usually working away from city centres, the enormity of the problem was out of sight. Those evenings in Manchester were a wake-up call.
I also recall listening to the radio after the footballer Ray Wilkins had passed away. A listener had called in to pay tribute and told the story of how Ray had chatted to him on the street. The caller was ex-military and was living on the street outside a train station. Ray had sat with the caller on the piece of cardboard he was using to protect him from the cold. He chatted about playing for England and how lucky he was to have been a footballer. He took him to a coffee shop and bought him a meal and a hot drink and as he left, gave him some money to use at a nearby shelter. That same night he stayed in the shelter and met a guy who offered him work. The work earned enough money to rent a flat and he met a girl there. They got married and had a child who, at the time of the call, was a toddler.
Whilst we might not be able to comprehend why a country like ours has such a huge problem with homelessness, the story above shows that there is hope. Small gestures might not change the world for everyone, but they have the power to change everything in the world for someone.