For most of my life I have led a blessed existence. I come from a loving, supportive family and have had the luxury of working in areas that I love. Just like anyone I’ve had my sad and lonely moments and times when I’ve earned no money and wondered if I’d ever clear my debts. But I have never experienced homelessness. I have never had to rely on sofa surfing or been reduced to sleeping rough.
My second crime thriller, Death’s Silent Judgement, features some homeless people who used to inhabit Cardboard City in the Bullring, Waterloo in the 1990s. This weekend I learned what it is like for the homeless in 2017.
St John The Evangelist in East Dulwich joined the Robes Project, which operates in South London, providing overnight accommodation, food and company for people who would otherwise be on the streets. An unimaginable hardship during the freezing weather we have been experiencing.
I was part of the host team on Saturday. Previously a friend had said that one of the female guests loved reading crime thrillers and he’d told her a “famous” (ha ha) author would be on the team. So I took along a copy of Dancers in the Wind for her.
She thanked me and when I asked if she’d like me to sign it, commented that she’d never had a book dedicated to her before except the Bible. I thought that not many people do get author signed copies unless they’re in the rarified world of book launches and Twitter and duly wrote in the book for her.
She thanked me then looked at the book again. “Oh but you wrote this!” What she had meant by her earlier comment was that nobody had ever given her a book and signed it. No “love from” in a Christmas or birthday gift. I was humbled as I was several times that evening.
The food that people had cooked and brought was fabulous – every taste and dietary requirement was catered for and our guests were appreciative. A five star rating. As someone who has to be dairy free I could only look on longingly at the fabulous chocolate gateau. Everyone had more than enough to eat and had warmed up. The evening took on a party atmosphere with chess, cards and conversation. For others there was a chance to sit back and contemplate or read the newspapers.
I can only admire the good humour of our guests – some of whom actually work full time but still cannot afford somewhere to live, a cruel irony. Some shared a little of their story, some flirted and cracked jokes. I couldn’t help but wonder how I’d react in their situation. I moan enough as it is.
Those people were a joy to be with and gave us a lesson in humility that I think most of the hosts took away with them. It is an indictment of our government that more and more people are homeless through no fault of their own. A situation we should all be calling government to rectify as a priority. And please nudge me when I start moaning about my lot in life.