• Ben Westwood

Layabouts, druggies, smackheads and scroungers? Wake up bro, there's more than you have seen.

Updated: Nov 1, 2021

Before I'd started to write this article, I needed to give myself a bit of time to calm down. I made this live Facebook video before writing the following article, just so I didn't miss any of my points here.

After watching an internet video and getting sucked into what seemed a comment-war over yet another video on social media that exploits the homeless, the following hour-and-a-half was to bring feelings out in me that really do need to be carefully managed, not only for my own sake but for those I see treating the homeless as the butt of their cruel jokes, or simply exploiting them in the many ways some people do.

And, I wish I was all wise and perfect, but I'm not. I truly care about the homeless because I've lived it from such a young age. I don't just know a lot of the ins and outs of a life like this, but I feel them, live them and breathe them without even thinking.

So before you judge me for sounding a bit explosive and perhaps a little too sensitive, then how would you yourself react when you see vulnerable people or those you care about being bullied, for a Facebook video, by those that seem to have life a lot better off. (I didn't know the person in the video but they were obviously vulnerable, and for me it was hard to watch) If you haven't figured it out already, I have a lot of time and understanding for those out there living on the streets. The re-poster of the video, and like still too many others, saw no problem with what they had perceived as 'harmless fun'. "There are too many Karen's about" they even posted after the long list of comments with people showing their disgust. I'll attach the link to the video below though, and you can make your mind up for yourself. (It won't let me embed it) https://fb.watch/8lfbZD4_fM/

For those that for whatever reason might not be able to watch the video, its of two lads from up north in a car stopping to chat to a homeless guy on the street whilst filming it. The homeless guy clearly has some sort of disability, and although the majority of commenters stood up and displayed their outrage, sadly the video was watched thousands of times and still many viewers of this Facebook video assume his slow speech was clearly due to a drug problem - therefor the homeless guy supposedly deserved what was about to come. I did state in the video I made that I thought myself maybe his symptoms could have been partly due to the effects of long-term drug use, but upon further reflection I really doubt that drug use has such a major part to play in it.

They ask him where he can get Spice (the dodgy 'synthetic cannabis' that is nothing like cannabis) and he says that he doesn't know where to get any. They then ask him briefly about Ketamine before tugging on his clothing and claiming they were undercover police.

Immediately the homeless guy is distressed, pleading out again that he doesn't sell drugs and they ask him to stand up against the wall to be searched. Those of us a bit street-savvy and perhaps fortunate to have the mental cogs turn a little faster would have said 'ay up' by this point and demanded proof they were police, but instead this lad politely agrees to be searched and stands up against the wall. The distress in his face is obvious. It just makes me sad, angry, annoyed and enraged that although many of us feel a heart-sinking feeling for the poor lad that others see that distress as a funny joke, something to laugh about at the expense of the vulnerable. My first initial unthoughtout reaction was to call these lads absolute moronic idiots in need of putting in their place. But perhaps it's time people like myself learn that these reactions aren't useful, these people just don't know! In a sort of weird way, I get it. But the only reason that I get it is because I've taken a moment to think that maybe if I'd not lived the life I've lived, with all my experience of the streets, that if I was naïve enough to assume that everyone on the street was on drugs, and that the reason they were on drugs was simply because they were lazy, selfish or idiotic, then perhaps I would be laughing along too. No one's perfect and we can all get swayed by popular opinion.

But the grand illusion that the sole core reason that people are living on the streets is because of drug problems is one that really riles me up. Because it's such an uneducated view of the society we live in and smashes the confidence and hope like crazy in those experiencing homelessness. Sadly, too many people fail to understand the core reasons, even beneath drug problems, that are the biggest contributors towards someone being homeless. Factors such as trauma, PTSD, mental illness, sleep deprivation, depression, tragedy and many others all play their part in shaping the lives you see out there, those are real people. Sadly, there is too often little respect for the daily struggles one faces when living on the streets. Many more normalised folk would have topped themselves within a few years, whilst others, whatever their struggles really are, keep ploughing on. I did just a few lines ago take a break in writing this article to make the following picture below. Squirrel! (article continued below)

(continued) I'm certainly not saying that most people are abusive to the homeless, but if any of us just become another bystander to the cruel jokes which then become viral videos on social media then how many more vulnerable people will get taken advantage of and demoralised just for a few Facebook likes, let alone the more serious exploitative situations out there. On a slightly different note - I've heard so many people say "Oh but I offered them a place to stay, even a job, but they didn't want the help." If you knew what it was like living on the streets, you'd know the stories I know. You would have heard the whispers such as "Those people that park up and give the homeless people food, don't let them take you to Northampton, you'll get stuck and have to hand all of your benefits to them." Or "Be careful of the travellers in Charing cross that offer you to go and live and work with them, you won't get paid and you'll be stuck there."

Those there are just the more extreme examples, and it's taken me many years to fully realise and come to terms with the true scale of exploitation of those experiencing homelessness out there. For a while I've wanted to speak of a phenomenon which I truly believe exists, one where such an unthought-out and perhaps subconscious lack of respect is given to those that have been in care, lived on the streets, had addictions or find themselves with mental health problems for whatever reasons.

Here in the UK, we like to think the best of ourselves and I've come to realise that the abuse and discrimination that is given so often towards the homeless is absolutely widespread, there are people out there that wouldn't even admit to themselves that they were doing it. It's bigtime, seriously.

But back to what I was saying -often it's due to a lack of thinking about how you would have coped if you'd been through what many of those that have been on the streets have. That's what I want to say to people that speak about the homeless in such disregard. So instead of labelling them as just druggies, junkies, scroungers, layabouts and wasters, then perhaps largely too many people who's lives could have been so much different could give those folk a little more respect. And I'll stop labelling you as stupid and unlived. After all, they might not always have the framework and supportive people around them to put up a great fight, but still they are survivors. Peace.

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