Will there ever be an answer to homelessness?
It's common knowledge amongst many in my network that I'm a big supporter of the homelessness issue. My personal view is that it's incredible that in the 21st century, with everything we have at our disposal to try and answer the world’s issues, we can't find a solution to homelessness and it irks me!
That’s me in the photograph with 5-star chef Martin Wishart in his whites, at his fantastic restaurant in Leith, but most important is the guy in the middle of this photo, Colin Child. I met Colin many years ago as he sold the Big Issue on the corner of George & Hanover Street in Edinburgh, he stood there in all weathers and had a wee faithful dog beside him at all times, then about 4 years ago he suddenly disappeared out of sight! Just before Christmas and much to my surprise, I saw Colin's face appear in a video shown by the brilliant Social Bite, at the 2016 annual Scottish Business Awards and the even bigger surprise, there he was in person in a dinner suit & bow tie! I was so used to seeing Colin wrapped up warm outside on the street fighting off the cold air. It was an emotional reunion, so great to see him and we chatted about where he'd been? He tells me his best friend died up in Inverness and his dog had passed, couldn't get any worse and he'd reverted to old ways. Later he returned to Edinburgh and got a break with Social Bite, a sandwich shop with a difference, because 1 in 4 of the staff are former homeless people. Colin started firstly handing out leaflets to promote the shops and proving he was able to be trusted by their leadership, he started to get his life together. He was soon making the sandwiches for sale in the Social Bite shops and that trust continued to grow in him.
Now a few years in and Colin is a new man! He's running the sandwich distribution factory in Livingston and his big achievement, he's training to be a chef - yes you heard me, a chef! It’s an incredible turnaround for a man who was on the streets and in need of a break. Now every couple of Fridays, he spends a day with a group of top class chefs at the Martin Wishart restaurant and they work with Colin to teach him the basics of fine cooking. The team tell me he's totally committed to making a go of it and never misses a day at the restaurant, because he appreciates the opportunity given to him.
I spent a morning working beside Colin, Chef Wishart and his team and I was extremely proud of the efforts Colin was making to build a new future for himself. It made me feel very humble to know what he's been through in his life, yet he's still here and fighting back and he will make it work. Colin is now a flag bearer for the Social Bite brand, he is someone others on the street can look up to and they can see an example of what might be if they commit to change. Lesson learnt, whatever changes you want to make in your life you can, you want to be successful you can be, it doesn't matter how low things get you can come back if you believe in yourself and work hard - Colin did it.
Homelessness is now a plague on our society, it's engulfing cities and countries and I see it everywhere I travel. My own city of Edinburgh is seeing an increase in people on the streets, it’s the same right across the UK and other countries. Is there enough of the right help and support for those affected? We often view the homeless as wasters, people who don’t want to work and just want to take, but that isn’t the case in the majority. People want their dignity and no one really wants to be sleeping in doorways, exposed to weather and to abuse and violence. We don't want to get involved with them, we don’t take any time to stop and chat and why would we, after all we are busy people and we don’t have the time. But we can’t understand what these people are going through unless we engage fully and so I would urge you to do just that, stop and talk to someone on the street and maybe you'll have a new perspective? Their stories are often harrowing and sometimes caused by one bad break in their lives. Once you’ve fallen in to the trap of homelessness, it isn’t easy to escape it and let’s face it, it could quite easily be you or me next.
I have had the pleasure of working on the homelessness agenda through amazing organisations such as Social Bite, Crisis and the Homeless World Cup and they are doing their best to make a difference, why not get involved and add your efforts to fighting this 21st issue.
Bright Purple Resourcing / IDE-International