Would I have watched this if it had just been about homeless people? Maybe not. Was the idea of someone with lots of money having to slum it for a few days appealing? I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t. I watched the BBC documentary (part one of two) this morning and found I had misconstrued what was going to happen. These don’t seem to be famous people seeking a bit of free publicity but people who have a genuine interest in either learning more about homelessness, challenging themselves (and their preconceptions) or confronting a subject that many of us choose to ignore. With one exception.
Essentially, they were stripped of their possessions and, it seemed, of their own sense of self, in some cases. They had to learn to be resourceful, if they wanted to each. They had to beg in order to eat, which appeared to strip some of a sense of dignity. They had to rely on their instincts to get around, and to decide where to stay. They had to be constantly aware, in order to stay safe (although I think they were monitored throughout). They also learned about themselves, and began to truly value what they had, by giving it up (albeit for a short time). We all say we appreciate things, but never fully understand until the things we have are lost.
We all walk a tightrope. No-one knows when circumstance will lead us down a different path. I certainly understand how much life can change in an instant. An illness, a break-up, a job-loss – sometimes that’s all it takes to throw everything into confusion. You are blessed if you have a good family and friends, and can weather many storms with some help, but what about the people who don’t have that support? Who do they turn to and where do they go? There are organisations out there, but you need to be in a position to access them (and have the ability to do so).
I admire these people for doing this, even for 10 days – it’s 10 days more than most would CHOOSE to do (I wouldn’t choose it, I admit). I don’t blame the Marquis of Blandford for going home, but do think that his attitude absolutely stunk – he was arrogant and dismissive. He is only where he is by birth, rather than earning his place in the world, and he had no right to speak to people in the manner that he did. Conversely, there was one young woman who showed kindness above and beyond what anyone would expect. She struck up a conversation with one of the volunteers, and gave her some money that she had on her…then she returned, having been to the cashpoint, and gave her a further £40! It was so touching, I was in tears.
Later on, volunteers were paired up with others who had been living on the streets for years. It was interesting to hear their stories, and it makes you think about how many people had failed them to bring them to where they are today: parents who abused their child and a boy of 13 (now in his 30s) who was failed by the care system, are just two examples.
I look forward to tonight’s programme, and to hear what the celebrities have taken from their experience. Currently, with regard to homeless people, I freely admit that a voice inside my head says, “Don’t give them money as they’ll spend it on drugs or drink,” because that’s what society has imprinted on me. However, my heart goes out to anyone who needs help. So I do what many people do: I avoid their gaze and walk on, feeling ever so guilty for ignoring someone in distress. Once, I gave some money to a young man who was begging, as he looked so poorly and in need – then his dog appeared and tried to bite me! Clearly ignoring the situation is not the right way to deal with it and, clearly, as someone who doesn’t work, I can’t give to everyone. Yes, there are people who use money for drugs, but there are also genuinely desperate people out there. I don’t know what the answer is, but I hope that there is one! Do consider watching the final episode of this documentary tonight at 9pm on BBC1.