I don’t know much about you. In fact I know nothing about you. After all I only spent 30 minutes next to you as we waited for an ambulance to take you to A&E, and I never saw you again.
You were lying on the ground in a busy high street when I first saw you, unresponsive, your knuckles bloodied and flesh shaved back, the dirty remnants of an entire city smeared across your clothes and on your skin. People strolled past you and I stopped, along with another man. Yes, it got to me that we were the only ones who stopped but we’re not special for that. We’re not better. This is simply the survivalist nature of the big metropolis. You could have been dead but you were most likely just another junkie who had it coming. Why would anyone stop for that? It was your choice. You did this to yourself, didn’t you? Didn’t you?
In the confusion, as we waited for the ambulance, a man threw a bottle of water in your face and you sprung back to your feet, confused, desperate, eyes half open, a smile turning into a grimace of pain before you slowly started to fall back onto the floor in the zombie slow motion of a Spice overdose. This was not cocaine, this was the cheap drug of the homeless, the destitute, the ones who don’t have a place, be that in one made of bricks and mortar or society.
In that brief moment when the man who waited with me caught your fall and sat you down in a chair outside a trendy cafe under questionable gazes, you looked at me through slotted eyes and asked me for food; you said your name was Franklin, and in that brief moment I though of my son and I thought of your mother. I thought of the day you were born and who chose to name you Franklin. I wondered how she was doing, if she wondered where you were and when she lost you or if she herself was lost, alone and unconscious on another pavement across town. Maybe she’s dead, maybe she’s alive. Maybe she loved you, maybe she did this to you. Either way, you were once a baby, perhaps not her baby but a baby all the same. You had fat rolls and tiny toes. You giggled. You had your first words, you crawled, you walked, you walked some more and then what did you walk into and why? I will never know and I will never know what part your mother played in your demise and who played a part in hers, because let’s face it, she lost a world when she lost you, whether she knows that or not.
I carried that thought with me after they took you away and my trusted frenemy, anxiety, set in at warp speed. I lugged it back home with me, through my front door, into my living room and it sat there on my back like a heavy weight as I attempted and failed to settle my 3 year-old, who has social communication difficulties, with yet another meltdown. He’s 3 now but he won’t always be. School is just around the corner, a life less sheltered, a life less forgiving. Would he be bullied for singing out loud? Would he be taunted for being mixed race? Would he be sidetracked for not fitting into the mainstream? At which point would he start hanging with the wrong crowd and when would my arms lose the ability to smother it all away and comfort him? Would I be able to stop it all? Would he end up on the streets?
Mind you, my racing brain has got a lot to answer for and I am the Queen of bad scenario escalation so this thought was tinged with anxiety induced desperation. I know he has a network of support that you, Franklin, probably never did and that counts for something. But sometimes, despite our best intentions, despite parenting with our entire beings, things go wrong. We all make stupid choices in the pursuit of love, acceptance or to numb the pain. One stupid mistake is all it takes. One misstep during those ever pliable, porous years of teenagehood. A family breakdown. An eviction. How many of us are a pay check away from living on the streets? The thought nagged me, and nagged me some more. I’m not entirely naive and I come face to face with homelessness every day, increasingly so as the economy squeezes out its non-productive “waste” as it expands in wealth, leaving more and more people like you scattered under shop fronts and underpasses. While researching the increasing use of Spice among the homeless I learned that since it was banned, this former legal high became available at a much cheaper price thus becoming the drug of choice for the destitute, the ones desperate to escape their predicament. It provokes horrible hallucinations, psychotic episodes and it turns people into zombies, causing them to barely stand or lay motionless on the pavement like you were. It is rife in cities like Manchester, Bradford and London. And it is making it even more difficult for people like you to find a way out of that very dark place that is homelessness.
I have bought breakfasts and lunches, I have given out money, but this is like throwing a bucket of water into a fire engulfing a city, I’ll admit. I’m not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination and I spend a considerable amount of time wishing I had paid more attention in math class so I could manage my conservative pot of pennies more efficiently. Like many I cannot stand chuggers and quite frankly the way a lot of charities are run means that the money we give does not always end up where it should. But then there’s the human heart. Then there is you and all the other young kids like you who may still be at that fork in the road where a hand can make a difference between a grave at 20 or a chance at life. An actual life, not just a stint on this rotating earth, peppered with emptiness, hopelessness and a handful of Spice overdoses to fill the hole. This time it felt like a no brainer. I knew about Centrepoint and the vital work they do to support the young homeless but I read some more and now I am sponsoring a room. I am no better than anyone else and this isn’t a statement of virtue. I just couldn’t shake the visions of fat rolls, tiny toes, giggles, first steps and then missteps into a life registered on a birth and a death certificate and void in the middle. I hope this counts for something. I hope this counts for you.
If you see a rough sleeper, it helps to call or get in touch with Street Link
If you want to donate to a charity, try this list on: Charity Choice