Nights on the Southbank are dark, curious, punctured by bright chains of lights. Sometimes quiet, the Thames flowing calm, and sometimes a babbling brook alive. On the Southbank we’ll never walk the same walk twice, we never know what we’ll find.
The other night we found a marriage proposal amidst the music of our ukuleles; the happy couple hugged us and thanked us for inspiring the start of their happily ever after. Another night after that we found a different couple dancing away on the riverbank like it was a royal ball, all alone the two of them, save for us and our two ukuleles playing in the dark.
And last night we made friends with a sweet homeless lady. Been homeless for just three days, driven to the streets by an abusive husband and 48 stitches on her head, she was freezing in the October chill and alone. We stopped to give her some food and change from our bags: we were “the first people to acknowledge me as a human being at all today.” We sat down and got to know her, her days as a hairdresser, her summer holidays back in her native Southern Italy. I taught her Finnish, which she picked up surprisingly effortlessly. Eventually we knew we had to leave her as we had to get up for a morning lecture the next day, and frankly, we were really cold. It felt horrible to leave like that, though. Our cold was nothing compared to homeless cold. We had a warm bed and cup of tea waiting just five minutes away, our new friend had just… a long, cold, dark night on some hard, cold, dark steps. She wished us such a heartfelt goodnight and called us sweethearts.
This is heartbreaking and touching and this is not okay. I’ve been wracking my brain on how to do something. Maybe I can help Brianne. I’ll find a shelter capable of taking her, I’ll find a hairdressers willing to employ her. Something. But this is just one person out of thousands. Even one person who has to spend the night outside growing numb from the cold and numb from being treated as invisible is too much. I don’t know how these people can be brought back to the level of humanity they deserve but it definitely cannot be ignored anymore. People need to acknowledge the problem to start changing things. So if you’re in London, if you are concerned about someone who is rough sleeping, please call StreetLink on 0300 500 0914 or log on to http://www.streetlink.org.uk/. If you are anywhere in the world, please spare a blanket, a cup of coffee, a sandwich, or some change. And always spare a smile.
It’s in our bones to look out for one another.