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 https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/a-runaways-story-of-living-on-the-streets
And thanks for your support.






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