‘Any spare change mate?’ The line we hear daily. The line we often choose to ignore.
As we go about our day to day business, spending the spare change we say we don’t have, there are people, below the surface of our eye line as we walk by, and below the surface of our more important thoughts, who sit on the cold pavement and watch the world go past. While many think of poverty as being some unreachable monster that lives thousands of miles away in foreign lands with huts and slums, the fact of the matter is we walk by it every single day here in Glasgow. Not fly ridden, famine insilled poverty, but cold, wet, Scottish poverty resting in the people who have to sit on the damp streets and ask for money.
Graham is one of these people. Having been in and out of care for the first half of his life, and living on the streets for the other, it is one I, along with so many others, couldn’t even begin to imagine living.
As I sat and spoke to him, many people seemed to be more interested and gave him money as they walked past. He told me smiling that he was like a bus stop, once someone gave, others shortly followed. One man saw his sign and gave money saying, ‘that’s cause you’re Scottish pal.’ I wasn’t quite sure what to think of this, that Graham could’ve worked in advertising in another life perhaps.
He was nothing like how I imagined he would be. He wasn’t out of his face on drugs, he wasn’t aggressive, he wasn’t scary. All he had surrounding him, apart from the coldness of the day, was a complete aura of sadness, a melancholy that I felt myself drawn into and which cloaked me in the hours that followed. He seemed genuinely concerned when my camera stopped working, and politely inquired how much a ‘thing like that’ would cost. I felt awful in that moment. Embarrassed that I was parading this expensive piece of equipment in front of a man who had nothing, using him for a photograph he would never actually see. But he was more than happy to have it taken, and even when I almost backed out of the situation, he told me to ‘stop being daft.’
After we had spoken, I shook his hand and went on my way. I’ll probably never see him again. But I know he’ll be out there somewhere in the city living his life, another face, however invisible to some, of Glasgow.
There is no definite number of the amount of homeless people living in the UK, as often, many simply ‘do not officially exist.’
The vast majority of single homeless people who are not entitled to housing, as well as those who, for a variety of reasons do not even apply for homelessness assistance, end up surviving out of sight. (Crisis.)
This hidden world of people who live in squats, in doorways, in hostels, in boxes, or anywhere not actually constituting a real home, is a world that is fraught with danger, aggression and hunger.
Living in fear of being mugged, raped, beaten, asking for money from people you don’t know, and the only escape often being a world of drugs, or suicide.
However, things seem to be looking up. In Scotland at least. Last year, new legislation was passed that made sure that anyone finding themselves homeless through no fault of their own would be entitled to settled accommodation.
Previously, only those classed as being in priority need – often families with children – had that right. From speaking to Graham, he seemed to support this claim as he had a place to sleep at night, a local hostel, where he received food and a bed.
Figures from February 2012 showed that Scottish homelessness was at its lowest for a decade. However, after the historic commitment that the Scottish government would see an end to all homelessness in the country, a quick sweeping look at the alleyways and doorways of Glasgow at night shows that there is still a long way to go.