Thursday, 4 June 2009

Street Life

Hidden talents

I spent a great deal of today at St Mary Magdalen's once more today. I struggled to get into my work once again (ahem...cough...internet addiction...cough) and I think my priest noticed that I needed fresh air and time out. He kindly gave me some money to do his garden and saw some ladders in half to be used in the garden for some kind of bizarre climbing plant design he must have up his sleeve. I appreciated it. I was outside, in the fresh air and away from the office. I'll have to go in again Monday and do the work I was meant to do this week. Promise!

Anyway, this evening I saw my friend 'J' who has once more informed me he was beaten today. He seems to be beaten every day. He is in somewhere now, so he has a place but is doubtless lonely and so spends all day on the London Road and thereabouts hanging out with 'the wrong crowd'. He drinks heavily and then says something to someone to which they take exception and gets hit. The frustrations of the homeless and hostel dwellers of Brighton spill over onto the streets and often it seems, men and women take it out on each other.

I worry about him. I worry he is not going to last another week, two weeks, month in Brighton. 'J' was always denied the love of a mother and father and has gone searching for love wherever he could find it since. The lack of love he received as a child and the abuse he received from those who were meant to care left him ravaged and scarred. Neglect led to drugs and crime, prison, ASBOs and unemployment. Two themes then, mark his life, two themes that the Church always proclaims to be part of the true dignity of man. Firstly, the importance of the family as the foundation from which the human person learns love, feels safe and is nourished as an individual. Secondly, the dignity of work, something of which 'J', through probably no real fault of his own, has always been denied also.

And he is not the only one. I think that when people walk down the London Road and see the various beggars and the men and women drinking and getting lairy outside St Peter's, they look down on them and think something along the lines of 'get a job', 'parasites', or similar such language as certain people seem to use about unborn babies. The great problem is that by and large many of the addicts and the homeless have really been rejected by family and society, as well as potential employers. If you don't have many clothes, live in a hostel and bear the marks of heroin addiction, who is going to employ you?

All day drinking, on the London Road, is a sub-culture, a kind of surrogate, often infighting family, formed in the absence of a culture that sees each individual as having something to contribute to society. Talents, hobbies, skills have been discarded in what really amounts to an absence of recognition of the gifts that people have to offer - gifts that are rewarding to individuals and to others. I suppose ultimately what I am saying is that the council - and the probation service's approach to drug abuse, crime prevention and petty crime among the homeless and very poor does not take into account the whole human person. This can be seen recently with 'J's experience of being thrown out of jail and onto the streets with nothing - only to then be expected to turn up for his drug meeting on Monday.

Tonight I didn't go busking with him even though he wanted to go out and busk. I've had a long couple of days and felt I needed some time out. I gave him my guitar and sent him on his way. He makes a little money out of busking even though he can't play guitar. The point is, that when he busks, alone or with me, he is given some kind of recognition. He can sing - and that is a gift. The problem is that during the day he really has nothing to do - no job, no purpose, no hobby, or at least none that he can afford to indulge in. He is trapped more or less on one of Brighton's least friendly and attractive roads and given nothing to do - and the probation service expect him not to go and get some beer and hang out with other people recently released from jail, drink and later on, probably get hit - or get a hit.

If Brighton is serious about tackling the problem of 'anti-social behaviour' - though there is probably nothing so anti-social as banning someone from the entire town centre and slinging them into jail if they break the ban, or sending someone to a drug clinic for two hours and then throwing them out onto the street with nothing to do - then the council or the probation service have to look at programs that will approach the problem of 'anti-social behaviour' with holistic support to the individual. At the very least, that means, giving them something to do. For me today it was gardening. It helps. Its therapeutic. A funded programme aimed at giving people with nothing to do, something to do - and I know this is going to sound rich after I slated Obama and his City Youth plan - done voluntary obviously, rather than compulsorarily, could really make a difference to people's lives. With my friend 'J' it could be something that saves a life, otherwise the poor lamb is going to turn up dead on the sidewalk within a month.

When I was in Liverpool I heard about some tunnels that were discovered under the ground. Apparently some philanthropist, noting the masses of unemployed people of the city, got people to build tunnels for him. Why? For no other reason at all other than to give them something to do. I imagine he paid them. For men, in particular, having nothing to do can be a total disaster. The dignity of work is an issue close to the heart of the Holy Father and the Church.

At ATD Fourth World, the organisation worked with poor families on art projects, poetry projects, projects in which they could express themselves artistically. It may not seem like much, but it does make a difference - and much of the art was good. The Unemployed Centre of Brighton offers such services as well. However, there is a sense in which many of the very poor and homeless feel excluded even from there, I imagine.

The sense of hopelessness, despair and sinking into alcoholism which the homeless suffer is only compounded by the fact that they feel there really is nothing else to do but get pissed all day, go home and sleep it off and do the same thing all over again tomorrow. I would imagine that a great many chaps and chapesses who hang out all day on the London Road, really, deep down, would rather be doing something else...but what?


berenike said...

I think these are those very mendicant Polish Capuchins I mentioned some time ago. A curiosity.

berenike said...

Here's the link again, don't know why it didn't work.

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