For a long time now I have wondered what happens to those begging around the streets of London. How do they get a roof over their head or a meal at the end of each night? What happens during the winter months?
In the last few weeks, I started befriending a handful of those I regularly see on my way to work or on the way home. Their touching tales are truly inspiring me to fulfil my desire to volunteer and lend a hand.
Valmir usually sits outside of Sainsburys, meagrely clothed with a blanket wrapped around him. Ready with my quid, I said hello and asked if he was warm enough on that rather cold day. Answering in broken English, Valmir shared how he struggles to find work since he got to London. He is now trying to raise money for a ticket home to Romania.
You will find Maulo late evenings in the Tower Bridge underpass. With no relatives back in his native Lithuania, life in the UK is ten times better than back home even in his current condition. Maulo is a happy man if he is able to raise £10 a day to get a bed at the nearest bedsit.
Sitting at Monument Station’s subway every afternoon, Ana welcomed me as I crouched to her level to chat with her. She left her family over 5 years ago to find a better prospect. In her 60s and with grown up children back home in Romania, she felt she still needed to help them out. With desperation in her voice, Ana wants to save as much as she can. Not only do I give her my spare change, I bring her something to drink or eat every other week day. Other days, I just give her a wave which puts a smile on her face.
I met a veteran outside Sainsburys selling the Big Issue. Victor is just one of the many displaced this winter. With an air of despair, he feels abandoned by his country. Victor hopes to raise enough money to get him to Newcastle, the nearest shelter he can secure for the winter months to come. When asked where he would be that night, he shrugged in despondence.
I’ve spoken to a number of homeless people from here and abroad, scattered around the West End and the City. It seems that they make the most of their situation by enjoying cheap cider, playing board games they found in a bin and exchanging stories from happier days.
There is one thing that I realised. Despite their personal woes, when you offer them a friendly word and a smile, your few pennies are not what fully matters to them.
Note: names have been changed as a promise.