As of September, I became a resident of Birmingham. Since then, I have frequented the city centre dozens of times for job interviews, work and leisurely purposes. As much as I love the city of Birmingham and what it offers, I have noticed one negative aspect that I’ve recently felt quite strongly about: homelessness.
Homelessness in Britain is a massive problem, and has been for years. According to the latest statistics published by the Department for Communities and Local Government, the number of people sleeping rough per night in England is 2,744. That’s a 14% increase from 2013. Or, to look at it in a more relatable view, that’s 2,744 sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers etc. I think one of the main problems about the public’s perception of homelessness is that those who sleep rough must be drug addicts or alcoholics. In reality, it is just a fraction of the total amount that are addicts. There is no single reason for homelessness; it can be a combination of long term difficulties, wider forces or the breakdown of a relationship. It could be mental illness, bereavement, unemployment, sexual or physical abuse. Indeed it can be an alcohol or drug addiction, but for those who have known someone with an addiction it can be agreed that it is an illness, and not something that should be held against someone. Whatever it is, we cannot assume that they are all addicts or even ‘deserve’ to be the way they are.
In Birmingham city centre, I have seen some heart-breaking scenes. Not only have I seen more rough sleepers in Birmingham, but I have seen the sordid state that they are in, and the lack of attention they are receiving from the public. Recently I was getting off a bus by the newly opened Grand Central, and I heard a jolly Christmas song being played. It felt good for a moment, until I saw a young man wrapped in a sleeping bag with his head slightly bowed, and a great deal of sadness in his eyes. He was staring at an entrance to a shopping centre where there was a family laughing and smiling, and I couldn’t help but think the moment was very poignant and artistic. As I rushed in to the train station, the image of him sat on the wet floor would not escape my mind. Coincidentally, there just so happened to be a Father Christmas, a Snowman and an Olaf in the station collecting money for the homeless shelter. I donated money, because I know that a lot of good is done by the shelters and charities in Birmingham, and the money would be spent on giving the homeless a Christmas dinner (something which I can’t imagine going without, personally). However – as fantastic as those groups and charities are, they are very small, and don’t match up to the size of society.
Since then, the dismal scene has played over in my head countless times, and as I always do, I tried putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard, for a more accurate description) to transport my thoughts and feelings in to a piece of creative writing. I wrote a poem, which I have titled: ‘The Aliens of Birmingham’. I’ll be sharing this with as many people as possible, with the request that if they can donate anything they can, whether it is in person or to a local shelter or online charity, then to do so with the intention of giving someone a bit of hope in an otherwise cold and lonely world. I will attach links to some of the charities you can donate to below, and I will also be donating myself. Below is my first poem in a long time, sparked by genuine sadness, anger, sympathy and confusion.
The grey turns to black on a cold evening, as the night sky settles over Birmingham. Buskers on New Street play songs and sing festive rhymes of cliché hooray. Lights dazzle and glisten above the streets to guide the greedy consumerist; through bloated shops of treats to tick off an earache from a child’s list.
A multitude of scents hang in the air: like chestnuts roasting and rich wine mulling; sizzling slabs of meat that have men lulling; sweeties and diabetes are everywhere! Loved ones huddle up in their herd; suits turn up their collar and iPhones; babies and children are chauffeured before they chill to their little bones.
Yet below the hum and joy of Noel lies the ones who have no cheer; nor songs to sing or tales to tell about another solitary year. They watch us steal a glance at them, in an urban zoo and they’re the creatures. Filthy and fetid, rotten fur; nothing but boozy, street side scum.
With hearts as heavy as our shopping and clothes as light as our conscience, they hobble past a crowd uncaring; a society lacking moral sense. Carrying a stale sleeping bag for the harsh chill of the winter night: a mobile home under the starlight as flimsy as a dishevelled rag.
Christmas is here, but not for them, who instead spectate the holidays. The aliens in Bethlehem; for those who cannot pay, cannot stay, Except there are no miracles today and no divine intervention. Just numbness and sorrow on Christmas Day for the vagrants of the nation.
*Note – the featured image is a photograph by Jae C. Hong of a homeless man sleeping rough beneath a street painting by Ruben Soto – this is a marvellous photograph which carries so many connotations.