Street homelessness- Kindness can kill. But only if you don't understand it yet.

 I'm not sure how this blog post will come across but I wanted to write it whilst I'm in raw emotion, whilst I'm sort of in a little way frustrated, angry or perhaps on a mission.

When I think of my book Poems From a Runaway and why I really want it to succeed, in my mind there are another subset of people that I really want to give a voice for and something which right now I feel is so close to my heart that I have no shame in admitting that I almost shed a tear of love for.
 Perhaps I can spot my future mental health problems ahead already? Who knows?

By now those following me or may have read Poems From a Runaway know that I've been currently raising awareness of my experiences of being in care and running away with missing children's charities and social workers.
But in my story, during my days as a teenager sleeping rough in the west end, there are another unspoken-for group of people that often get brushed aside whenever we as a society talk about homelessness, poverty and politics.

What has inspired this article was in fact a post on Twitter I saw this morning from a homeless charity recommending to people that it is much better to give money to a homeless charity rather than give money/food/clothes to.. (I didn't actually see the rest of the post as they had to write the rest on another tweet, but I presumed I knew where this was heading.)
We've all seen the signs around discouraging street begging and handing over stuff to the homeless.

If only the world was as clear-cut as some people make out. It's a philoshopy that would work in an ideal world, but reality is far from ideal and those going through journeys of homelessness know that more than anyone. 

 I know I've got quite a deep insight into the world of begging having have done it from 12-15 years old (and for a little bit at 16). 
Despite having many times of destitution, I myself had my lucrative days for sure. The affects of my childhood traumas hadn't really caught up with me then  and in many respects I was extremely fortunate to buying knickerbockerglories and grams of hash instead of crack rocks and heroin.

But there were in fact many other times when hunger and sleep deprivation had been driven to it's limits, and often in front of my very eyes I could see others that had been going through it long-term.
See us street kids, we learn something because we have to, it's fight or flight.
But like I've mentioned before,  I feel that no one really sees those out on the streets that don't put themselves on show.

Those that have read my book and understand my character could most likely imagine it when I had shared my begging money with others on the streets.
I remember one guy that was to later occupy my doorway at Tokyo Joes that had actually turned down the money I'd offered him, simply out of pride.

But there are many others out there that need the help that people don't see, and slogans such as 'Kindness Kills' do to some degree have their merits...but perhaps those writing them they may be unknowingly causing further despair to many other people already struggling.

As not everyone that reads these signs have themselves experienced what life can be like on the streets, perhaps it's easy to overlook that homeless services these days can be few and far between, limited further due to cuts and in many cases as it often has been -  only open for less than a handful of hours every day.

Sure it's true that millions of pounds every week across the country is going to the hands of hard drug dealers through begging whilst police forces claim to struggle to stop it, but even there lies many deeper untold stories of those with long-term drug problems struggling to get the framework and support they need to overcome the most devastating addictions that I've ever witnessed. 

But away from those that wrap sleeping bags around their legs and place themselves on show, perhaps people can easily overlook the fact that we have many others spending evenings on their own huddled in doorways with no one to talk to, and no one that comes to offer help.
If you think I may be over exaggerating then please remember I myself have been ignored by the public at 13 years old whilst literally starving, tired and weak, and during those times nobody at all responded to my cries for help.

I didn't know where many of the day centers were back then, and even if I did then perhaps I may have missed their opening hours or not got in. Remember that these places are often ran by volunteers and so are only open for practical immediate services such as food and clothing for a short space of time, if it all. 

Have you yourself walked through city streets day in day out for what may be your only meal of the day after getting only a few hours sleep in a park or a doorway?
Thank goodness for the volunteers and street services out there that go out of their way to provide food, drinks and resources to the homeless. But lets not forget that so many also don't find the help they need. 

I often find myself wondering of the lives of the old bag ladies that were huddled into doorways at night. Perhaps the homeless day centers that I would visit both as a youngster and an adult could have been too loud for them at times? What tragedy in their lives had led to them living like this? Is it purely mental health or did something happen to them? Do they even trust people any more?

 Sure the 'Kindness Kills' and similar signs and messages often relate to street begging in particular, but I worry about these slogans being misinterpreted by those reading them. 
Perhaps the lines between someone being a 'career beggar' and someone that is simply a 'rough sleeper in need' can be too easily blurred.

So whatever signs you read relating to not giving directly to homeless people, please remember that even many of those you see begging have already lived a somewhat institutionalized life for a variety of reasons.
It's one thing saying that you understand depression, but it's another to say you understand having to learn to cope with it over life pretty much completely on your own and completely winging it as many out there living on the streets are doing.
Many of those people will still likely be sitting in those doorways during Christmas and on their significant milestone birthdays.

So what do I want people to take from this? I want people to not underestimate how much of an impact a small act of kindness can make for anybody, and it is certainly one of my main messages in my book.
If everyone would have left me for someone else to deal with, despite being a missing teenager and not actually technically homeless,  I would certainly be a different person than I am today, and perhaps not for the best, especially in my growing years.

It's for you the reader to start learning between those that truly need the money and help and those that are quite clever at saying the right stuff to get it from you.

There's a lot too all this, but claiming that homeless charities can take on the mammoth task of providing practical help for every homeless person is a fantasy statement in my opinion. 
Compassion. Use it or lose it.

You can find out more and pre-order the latest edition of Poems From a Runaway at

Beggars can't be choosers? A statement that really doesn't help homelessness.

Apparently beggars can't be choosers but that statement really makes me wonder how I would have got along living on the streets as a vegetarian of which I am today.
To be fair, back as a youngster I was extremely grateful for the burgers and cafe sandwiches brought for me by passers-by, and even these days as a busker trying to act as professional as possible I still get offered the odd meat-filled sandwich, which I politely decline whilst explaining my reason why.

The passing Joe Public with their good intentions may well understand this, but reasons as to why those living on the streets sometimes refuse help runs much deeper than someones ethical stance, or whether or not they actually enjoy eating a dry boiled-egg roll.

I've heard the echos before on those forums.
"I rang a hostel for him and he left there after a day and he's now back on the street. He obviously doesn't want to help himself." 

And -  "there's plenty of help out there, they're simply not trying enough"

I can sympathize with the frustration of today's young people that find themselves with no support network because during my adult experiences of homelessness across the UK I have seen myself firsthand of how depressing the conditions can be.

As someone that spent my adolescent years in the care system and feeling somewhat a 'child of the state' I can't knock the amazing work that is being done out there by homeless charities and hostels. 
 But many people simply aren't aware of the scope of landlords and so called charities or organisations that use the homeless simply to line their pockets.
If you don't think homeless factory farming exists, let me tell you that it does and you need to consider that before judging why some people would rather not be in one.

In my journey into adulthood, as well as squatting I also lived in hostels in London from the age of sixteen and even some of those were open to improvement and felt very much like the adult version of children's homes to some degree, with their red tape and rules.
But a few times now outside of London I've seen a very different story which made me realise that I had in fact previously been quite lucky.

Now I don't want to knock these charities, they may be doing the best they can and I'm certainly not trying to shame them, but I want more people to know what it's like for many of those that are actually trying to make an effort to get themselves out of homelessness. 

I remember around ten years ago now I really needed some help, the only place available for me was what I still consider a somewhat bizarre experience.
It was a hostel with fifteen feet high gates and fence of which after around 8pm you weren't allowed out of, so you had to be really dedicated if you wanted to stay there. 

It had a very institutional and almost prison-camp feel to it that place did, with cameras all over the building and I'd been told by staff there that they also had microphones on them. 
Even my bedroom resembled a prison cell, so much in fact that I'm wondering if the building was in fact a former prison or borstal.

Anyhow it wasn't quite for me that place and I only stayed a night or two before moving on back to square one.

Around six years ago I found myself homeless in the midlands and sought homeless advice which led to a referral to a room in a house of six people. I thought due to my previous life experience that I would get used to being the only one in a house of six not being on the crack or the gear, but if it wasn't the constant and caked smell of heroin that had started to depress me then it was the sometimes justified paranoia of having all my stuff nicked to pay for someones fix. 
It also wasn't exactly enlightening to come out of my room on a regular basis to see my housemate sitting on the steps waiting for his girlfriend to finish having paid sex either.

I had in fact before that been referred to another hostel thirty miles away from where I was living. It wasn't simply bad luck, most single men in the area had been referred to one of two hostels outside of town.
Everything seemed pretty kosha when I googled it, and upon getting there I was given a key for my room which was inside a nearby house ran by the organisation.
I was to discover my room's window was completely broken and therefor sealed up with masking tape and upon opening the door I noticed a funky smell, but thought I'd get used to it.

That night I was to hear the residents of the hostel outside talking about breaking into someones room. I didn't know who's it was, was it mine? 
Anyhow I was tired and so got some rest.
I'm not sure what that funky smell was but once I'd awoken I couldn't stop vomiting. 
It was an odd night to be fair, I was asked if I wanted to pay for sex on numerous occasions on my walks outside as well as if I wanted to buy crack and heroin.

'Please stop leaving your needles in the stairwells' read the signs in the hallways along with a picture of a needle and red circle with a line through.
I tried to clean the room but I knew I wasn't going to get any better in there and I was still very sick.
Luckily I had just been paid my benefits so I brought myself a B&B just down the road for two nights, and after having the window wide open I soon recovered in time to keep plodding on.

So for those that think homeless people have some sort of magic solution to progress in life, then perhaps think again.
How would you feel?  
Don't get me stared on house shares with the many many landlords out there claiming to help the homeless. 
Some may have good intentions at heart but may just simply not quite understand what such a complex task they can be taking on.

In the last four years alone with house shares and landlords 'helping the homeless' I've seen dangerous weapons on numerous occasions as well as hard drug use, had my room burgled in my last house share and have had to constantly battle with some pretty damaged characters whilst landlords deem them not problems to get involved with despite their own properties getting trashed.
In a way both my life on the streets and my times from sixteen living in London hostels were somewhat a very safe experience compared to how life is now for many people that find themselves wanting to progress in life, yet grasping to reach a way out of their struggles.

My point is... take a second to think what those people you may have judged  have gone through. How many times has the system failed them? How many times have they already tried the advice you're giving them only to be let down by a broken system that claims to have all the safeguards there for people, but really holds an untold secret that many simply give up after being let down either by red tape or being referred to places where they end up worse off.

Sure I myself was able to get through the hostel system as a young person without being tempted by the constant stream of hard drugs that were around me, but for quite some time now I've feared for those that may suffer a lifetime of struggle through one foolish mistake made in their unguided youthful years.
However much I'd not want my own children to grow up wrapped up in cotton wool, I'd never want them growing up in some of the places I've been to in my mid-twenties, yet I see young people are being referred to. 

I guess I'm aged and mature enough to sort of 'get' the security policies that a lot of my previous hostels had. Just like in the children's homes it's hard to understand some of the rules such as signing in and out when you live it and you're young, but in hindsight I consider myself lucky to have had a few forms of security back then.

There was another thing I was also thinking about when I started writing this article, and other memory from my time living on the streets as a runaway teenager.
And that was about a few angelic warnings I had also received by the latter end of thirteen years old.
By then I was mingling with the homeless at soup runs around the west end and had already heard the stories of people being brainwashed by cults and others being invited to do paid work with travelers only to find themselves stuck in the middle of nowhere unable to leave and with no one to help.

Along with men trying to groom me for all sorts of reasons, I had indeed been invited on numerous occasions to work with travelers and despite the fact that some of those offers may have been completely genuine, I'm glad I never took the risk because it has been known before and since for some of the west end's homeless to find themselves completely trapped in the middle of nowhere. 

Funnily enough I once knew one lad from a hostel that I lived in and was then one day years later stunned to see him in a documentary where he had been taken in by a religious group, but seemed a somewhat more damaged and troubled person than when I knew him and because he was found to have a drink problem he was totally deserted by them.
There are many great and amazing christian groups out there doing fantastic work all across the board, but I think those most filled with the holy spirit would agree that mankinds ego and controlling behavior far too often takes over the dynamics of group nature throughout society and religion, including with some personalities and structures within religious-based groups.

There's a lot going on here with homelessness, but there are so many people feeling misunderstood by those that have never really experienced what it's like to be homeless and completely on your own in today's world.
So that person you come across that you think has never really tried or made any effort to change their situation, perhaps there is a lot more to their story that affects their day to day living than many of us have taken the time to think about.
And maybe your advice isn't always as great as you think it is. 

Thanks for reading.
Ben Westwood.

Find out more about my childhood story 'Poems From a Runaway' via my crowdfunder page at
And thanks for your support.

Matt Willis And James Bourne from Busted finally know about my book.

So for those that don't already know, just under two decades ago when I was around 14 or 15 years old, I was laying down in a doorway late at night on Piccadilly W1 about to go to sleep.
Not that anyone knew my real age, I was living life as a missing runaway teen pretending to be an adult.

Two lads got out of a taxi in front of me and the taxi drove off. 
"Spare any change at all please lads?" I said.
"We don't have any change on us, but you're welcome to come back to ours for a drink" I think it was James that said.

It was very rare for me to take up peoples offers like that, simply out of self-protection but some people you just know are sound and instinct takes over. 
So I packed up my sleeping back into my rucksack, and followed James and Matt down Piccadilly towards their hotel.

"We're in a band that's gonna be famous" I remember Matt saying whilst a little tipsy.
I actually just thought he was a pisshead spouting bollocks at first until we got to their hotel.

Those that have read Poems From a Runaway already know there is a chapter/poem in there called 'Busted' dedicated to this story, but thanks to a newfound friend creating some magic through Twitter, I'm very chuffed to say that Matt Willis and James Bourne both know about the book, and even remember me which is great and it's been fantastic to speak again.

Matt has also donated some money to my crowdfunder and James has been retweeting some of my tweets which is really helpful, thanks lads!

Not only did I want to update my friends about it but I just thought I'd let all the Busted fans know about it, because you never know one or two of them might want a copy of the book. 

Those wishing to read the full poem can pre-order colour signed paperbacks and hardbacks of Poems From a Runaway via my crowdfunding page at or buy the non-colour interior version from Amazon at

Thanks for everyone's support so far.

 Big Love.

Here's the first page of the poem 'Busted' 
...And yes the typo's will be fixed in my new edition :)

Post book memories - One day in Walsall

An old memory that never made it into the book and hadn't popped into my mind for the whole year of writing Poems From a Runaway, was one particular night in Walsall, when I would have been twelve or thirteen at the time.
I'd actually been on the run and sleeping rough in London and one day got on a train to Walsall.
Even  as I'm writing this, all the little details that I had completely forgotten over all these years are coming back.
The reason I was in Walsall because one of the homeless workers that approached me on the street had got me into a hostel in Walsall, although obviously when I would have got there it would have been a little difficult  to make a benefit claim.

I walked past what I thought was the hostel and didn't go in, and instead slept rough in a doorway in the center of Walsall.
I must admit it was pretty scary to be honest. It seemed normal to do it in London but I hadn't noticed anyone else sleeping out that night, although there was a big chance there actually was.

As I bedded down I remember two blokes in their late twenties to early thirties walk past me, notice me and then take a couple of steps back to look.
"Fkin ell he looks young" I think one of them said. They then came up to me to offer me some money and asked where I was from.

As some of you already know, I felt I always needed a cover in those days to stay undetected, I can't remember what I said my name might have been Toby Sycamore because I used that one a lot.
I'd spoken it all in a fake London accent and told them I was from Whitechapel.
In fact half of my family are from Walsall, but I hadn't met my dad again until I was thirteen.

The invited me to a pub in the center of Walsall, I won't say which one it is for legal reasons as I don't want anyone getting in trouble for letting an underage minor drink in their pub.
The truth was I went to all sorts of establishments in those days, and because I slept out on the streets everyone seemed to just accept I was of legal age.

So we had a game of pool in one of these pubs and the two lads invited me back to their gaff. We got a taxi and let me sleep in the hallway in the block of flats they lived in so that I could keep out of the cold.
Please don't pipe up and say they could have invited me in because as a lot of us know, you just never know who's gonna mess you over, and maybe back then if I had saw a wad of cash then I may indeed have been tempted to take it and run to continue my adventures. 
You don't really understand how much of an impact it can have until you've experienced the adult world, so they probably made the best move to be fair. 

I seen them in the morning and that was that, the next day I think I was in London again.
I'm just wondering if those two chaps are around anywhere and if they remember speaking with a lad sleeping rough that came from London, and they gave him a drink and played pool with him.

I'd like to confess that my story was bullshit, I was 12 and my accent wasn't even real.
But I do remember what you did and I just wanna lads! Respect 👊



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Four lines for the old gals on the street.

Not from the book, just a bit of improv

*Press release** UK former child runaway tells his story to social workers, fostering services and children’s rights politicians.

7th July 2018

‘Poems From a Runaway’ debut-author Ben Westwood calls out for support from the international social work community to help spread the word of his book funding campaign.

During 2017, tinkering away on his laptop and scribbling notes for most of the year was 33 year-old Ben Westwood, a former child runaway from the UK
He was writing his debut book ‘Poems From a Runaway’, which is a collection of sixty stories about his life until the age of 16 years old.

Sleeping in ditches and car parks across Staffordshire from 10 years old was Ben’s life before he found himself in London whilst missing at the age of 12.
After a series of shocking events, by 13 he was sleeping rough outside London’s Victoria station before becoming a somewhat permanent W1 resident on the world-famous Piccadilly.

Whilst there he slept in doorways and mingled with the homeless, often begging to survive.
He lied about his name and real age to get into day centres, and even managed to sleep in hostels for a night or two here and there until it was time to make a social security claim, which of course he couldn’t do being a young teenager.

Despite certainly being a hard-hitting and somewhat unique childhood story containing moments that include sleep-deprivation, extreme hunger and even kidnappings – those of you expecting the sounds of violin music and calls for sympathy may find yourself surprised as this simply isn’t one of those type of books.
And for those thinking it’s a poetry book, well it’s not really just that either.

Westwood accredits some of his inspiration and style of the book to the early work of A.A.Milne of which he himself used to read as a young child.
But Poems From a Runaway itself is written in the perspective of the then young person confused by adults and society.

Be prepared to be laughing one minute, and completely surprised the next as Ben takes you through his journey in a style which those that have read it since its initial release say is somewhat addictive and a book that’s hard to put down.

Ben’s efforts of writing about a somewhat hidden and unspoken world haven’t gone unnoticed.
On 6th June he was invited to speak about his experiences alongside the European Missing Children umbrella charity at a conference on runaways at European Parliament in Brussels.

On 29th June he also spoke for 90 minutes with a group of over thirty social work students, lecturers and foster parents at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, UK and has another event coming up on 16th July with social workers in Somerset, UK.

With no literary agent, publisher or manager Ben has funded his self-published book through his own money and through donations from his friends.
With only just over 100 colour copies ever printed, and with a new ‘typo-free’ edition coming out he’s launched a crowdfunding campaign to sell pre-orders of the new version to fund his venture to get Poems From a Runaway  finally into bookshops around the world

His Crowdfunder is already live and runs until 12 midday (uk  time) on 14th August and he is hoping to raise at least £2500 ($3322 US) to get his book venture set up and ‘Poems From a Runaway’ on the map.

You can find out more through the crowdfunder page at

You can contact Ben Westwood directly by emailing
As well as on Twitter @ PoemsFaRunaway

A talk at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge - 29th June 2018

I must say, I had an absolutely fab day on 29th June at Anglia Ruskin university, Cambridge ,with my chat to social work students and lecturers alongside Angela Hunt and Alison Kindred-Bryne from To The Moon and Back foster care.

With only being my second event talk I was a little nervous to know I'd be sharing my story to 33 social work students and lecturers, but it turned out to be a rather lovely evening.
Although we had a few giggles during the hour and half long talk (followed by a Q&A) it was nice to hear some feedback from social work students and social workers that believed I had a valuable message to send out.

One social worker even came up to me and told me that I'd made her realise about decisions she had been involved with that perhaps she hadn't realised had made such an impact on the young persons life.

Big massive hats off to Alison and Angela for this, I'm so chuffed to have worked alongside them in an event which I presume must have taken a fair bit of tinkering away.
It's fantastic that a new foster care company has taken so much initiative to not only hold a close ear to the echos of care-leavers, but also work hard to enable that message to be passed on to the next generations of social workers.
I'm actually quite humbled.

You can find out more about To The Moon and Back Foster Care at the following link -

Have a great day.
Ben Westwood ;)