The other night, I met Simon and Sasha.
Simon had a messy divorce a year or so ago, and now he lives on the street in Cardiff city centre with his beautiful boxer dog, Sasha. It’s pretty tough on the streets at any time of year, I’d guess… but it’s particularly hard right now. Just before Christmas. With the weather getting colder. Simon’s been on the waiting list for a hostel for months now and is pretty excited because he’s up to 7th on the list – and he thinks he’ll be in come January.
He’ll have options.
And he’ll have somewhere safe and warm for him and Sasha. A dog is a mixed blessing when you’re on the streets, it seems… on the one hand, Sasha is beautiful and cuddly and perhaps makes violent drunks think twice about attacking him. On the other hand, there are only two hostels in Cardiff that accept dogs.
Sasha gazes at us as we stand up to leave, and we say goodbye to her.
“Say goodbye, Sasha!” Simon instructs – and she does! She raises her head and WOOFS at us as we wave.
Both of them will have had a hot meal last night.
Joe and I left Simon and Sasha, and met Benjy next. He has no family or connections in Cardiff, so he’s adrift. The council won’t help him because he has no connections anywhere. Apparently Cardiff is better than Barry, though, so here he is.
Benjy’s eyes are constantly darting around, looking warily for trouble; but he brightens up a little as he tells us his story: in trouble when he was younger. Nothing too serious, but enough to land him on the streets of Cardiff. He’ll have a hot meal last night or today, too, I hope.
John’s a bit older, much more chatty. He’s only been on the streets for 6 months. He used to have a drinking problem and got pulled for drunk driving. He accepts his situation fairly stoically; after all, he done wrong. I think homelessness is a punishment that doesn’t really fit the crime of one mistake, but there you are. He hasn’t touched a drink since his conviction.
He laughs as he tells us about the looks on people’s faces when he politely declines the offered half-pints. He appreciates the thought, but he’s not interested. He wishes us a good night seeing The Pixies, and we wish him a Merry Christmas, shake his hand, put some dinner money in it, and walk away.
On the way out of the Motorpoint Arena, I watch a stream of people flow around Raymond as if he doesn’t exist. As I crouch down to say hello, he flinches back as if he’s expecting a blow; then he smiles tentatively. We don’t stop; it’s late. But we do leave him a little something and wish him well.
Do you see them? The people living on the streets? What do you think when you look at them? Do you judge them? Feel uncomfortable? Pretend they’re not really there? Because they’re not, to most people.
I used to do the same.
I don’t anymore.
Because these are people who are, but for the grace of whatever and a healthy dose of luck, where any of us could be.
Could you spare £22.32 this Christmas? Would you forgo a couple of bottles of wine, and instead give someone a warm, welcoming, safe place over Christmas?
If you think you could, thank you. You can donate to Crisis here.
But do you know what will make almost as big an impact on homeless people? If you could go over and say hi. Even if you can’t spare much change, buy a cup of something hot. Or put together a few essentials like toothbrush and toothpaste, hand cleanser, hat, socks and gloves, and some treats into a shoe box – then go over, and ask their name. Where they’re from. How they got where they are.
Listen to their stories.
You might be surprised. It’ll cost you very little, but it’ll mean a lot to the person you talk to.
Vicky Fraser is a copywriter, author, and entrepreneur. She really did run away with the circus… but when she’s not swinging from a trapeze, she’s showing other copywriters and small business owners how to work with better clients, make more money, and stop missing bathtimes, first words, and dinners with angry partners. In fact, she wrote the book on it. Get your copy here.
PS This is true of your customers, too. Listen to them, they’ll appreciate you for it. Feeling lost in business? Grab a copy of my book, Business For Superheroes, here.