Around the Charity in Thirty Minutes

There was a middle aged man sat on the ground outside the post office when I walked past on my way to the cemetery with the dogs. Scruffy, unkempt, unwashed and down and out. I made eye contact because I hate ignoring people – but maybe doing so was patronising? His eyes saw me blankly before we both looked away. He had a bottle of supermarket white cider half empty beside him, it was 9.45 am. I had never seen him or any other homeless person around my neighbourhood before but times are hard and services have been cut.

I went on into the graveyard, pulled the dogs away from the squirrel hunting spot just inside the gate and headed towards the 1887 theatre fire monument. There behind it I saw a fresh grave with the biggest, most ostentatious pile of wreathes and bouquets I had ever seen. I was instantly stuck by the contrast; our society’s caring more for the dead than the living. I did a quick calculation, there were about 25-30 lots of flowers there, some very expensive, others less so, but about £500 must have been spent. Enough to feed that guy, put him in a hostel for a month and get him some new clothes.

When I die I want a cardboard box coffin or better still a silk sleeping bag liner. I do not want anyone to bring more than one white lily to my funeral; if they want to spend money then they can give it to a charity. How do you choose which charity is most needy these days? They say that charity begins at home and if so then that homeless man and many others like him are right on the doorstep. Alcohol though, many would consider that he does not deserve charity. It’s easy to judge isn’t it? He’s brought his troubles on himself, he’s hit the booze and pissed it against the wall hasn’t he? How often do we stop to ask the cause? Who knows what despair has brought him to the gutter by Ladysmith Road Post Office?

I will always give to cancer charities, like many people I have lost family and friends to the creeping devil disease. The NSPCC have benefited recently when my friend and I had a craft table at a country fair and I regularly get caught for sponsorship at work. One of my pet hates is when teenagers, some as young as sixteen are ‘raising money’ so that they can spend two weeks in a third world country to help build a school or plant a garden, you know the kind of thing? These trips usually cost a thousand pounds or so and no doubt they struggle to get the cash together – sitting in a bath of baked beans, abseiling from somewhere high or eating fifty hot dogs in an hour – but who really benefits? Maybe they realise how privileged they are, they mean well, but do they make any difference? Do they have any skills of any value to offer? Most often they come from middle class families whose middle class friends happily chip in so that said offspring can go on the adventure, but wouldn’t they do better to just send a cow? Or some seed and tools?

One of the craziest projects in recent years has to be the aid programme that decided to help the Turkana people in Northern Kenya by supplying them with equipment to fish and a huge freezing plant. The plan was to both improve nutrition locally and provide an income. The Turkana cooperative allowed themselves to be taught to fish and a new food mountain grew. It’s unfortunate that no one did enough homework to discover that the Turkana are nomadic pastoralists and DO NOT EAT FISH!

Seeing that man with his cider bottle sent my thoughts on a roller coaster, all on a thirty minute stroll through the cemetery. I might have popped into the shop and bought him a pasty, but he was gone by the time I walked back. I hope he found some appropriate help.

7 thoughts on “Around the Charity in Thirty Minutes

  1. Very thought provoking. The homeless are a product of our society, one that most don’t care to think about. More people should consider – you never know when you’re entertaining angels.

  2. It is thought provoking. As a child I can remember seeing people on the streets but they were called tramps then. They were few and far between. I understood that some of them had suffered through the war and could not lead a ‘normal’ life. They knocked on doors and asked for a slice of bread, they were polite and I know my mother always gave them a sandwich and a glass of milk. With our social security and social services it is ironic that there are so many homeless today.

      1. Absolutely spot on Gilly – especially agree about the well meaning travellers (of all ages)who think that by going off to work in an orphanage or elephant sanctuary for a few weeks that they can contribute to a better world – then return home and continue to live in the “normal” one. Why dress it up as something more than personal development ? I admire most the people who volunteer to work with the homeless here in the UK. Homelessness is a complex and tough issue; particularly when the incidence of mental ill health is incredibly high amongst the homeless – so I would suggest that it is mental ill health in our society which we need to consider – and that means everyone, not just the brave souls working for third sector charitable organsiations, in Social Care or the Police – who seem to have to pick up where everyone else leaves off. We are also schziophrenic in our society in that we want world class social care, yet only want to pay for third rate provision – that would after all be about increasing taxation and apparently the highest tax payers want their contributions reduced. There is also the element of personal choice, I remember as a student visiting a Christian homeless refuge and hearing from some of the travelling homeless that theirs is a life choice and that they would not want to be shackled with the cares of a home and family. There are many assumptions to be challenged.

  3. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment Libby. I totally agree that we make judgements and assumptions about people, we understand so little. I really don’t know when and how our society will change sadly. The global problems seem to deepen by the day but we have to remain optimistic don’t we? I think craziness is the alternative!

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