She has no soul! Or allow me to reword…she has no ‘sole’.
I looked across the room at her as she sat quietly on her stool in the corner of Social Bite’s café last week, her hands wrapped around a mug of steaming hot tea. It was her usual seat, and her usual behaviour. Unlike the rest of the regulars at the Women’s Suppers who like a good old banter, she doesn’t say much. She keeps herself to herself.
Now though, I look at her with fresh eyes, with the knowledge that she’d uttered some rare words to one of the other volunteers. I’d been told that this petite lady, with her quiet smile and thankful nature, had spoken, had actually engaged in conversation, and to ask for help…help to get shoes! The reason was simple. She had no soles.
At first glance, they looked like any ordinary pair of shoes, until she lowered her eyes and slowly lifted her feet to reveal the extent of the damage. It shouldn’t have been a surprise really. Like our other homeless friends, she walks this city…and walks, and walks, and walks. Most visit the homeless foot doctor down in the Grassmarket at some point, whilst others end up in hospital with foot rot.
Maybe it was the thought of actually having no soles, or my walking afterwards through the freezing city centre streets, and past young men who could have been my own sons, huddled in doorways, but the memory of those shoes, and other shoes, stayed with me and the injustice of it all tore at my heart.
‘Donald Trump’s not the biggest worry if you are hungry.’
Yesterday’s headline hit the nail on the head. It framed an article by Mhairi Black about the scandalous rise of food banks and child poverty at the hands of Tory austerity policies and heartless benefits sanctions. Mhairi, in the knowledge that she has little power to end benefit sanctions, is seeking through her Private Member’s Bill to at least soften their blow on lives by making them fairer. But the nutshell of the article…all this talk of Trump won’t feed people struggling in the real life world of poverty.
I wholeheartedly agree, but I’d go further. I’m sick of hearing about Trump, or Clinton, or indeed any of the so called big hitters across our now warped stage show that is politics. Quite simply, there’s just far too much focus on these individuals – love them or hate them – and on words like ‘powerful’ ‘strong’ and ‘successful’…words we can all apparently aspire to in the reaching of our ‘potential’.
Now here’s where I may well seem naïve, but what’s so wrong with a political world that focusses on words like ‘compassion’, ‘caring’, ‘service’ and ‘others’? What’s the problem with reaching our potential in those ways, building our nation, our world, with those values? Why is ‘success’ now measured by the great heights that you can climb and the personal media attention you accumulate along the way, rather than caring acts of service for others?
As I sit tapping this out on my keyboard, the café sound system is already playing out Slade’s ‘Merry Christmas’, where everyone is apparently having fun and the future’s just begun. Except it’s not fun for far too many of our folks, and as the rest of us hit the Christmas streets to buy, let’s face it, mainly stuff we don’t need, too many are struggling in the hope of just a future that puts food on the table for their children, or a roof over their head for that night.
We need to end the fixation on the big boys and girls that has increasingly crept into our politics, and realise that each and every one of us at a grassroots level in politics can, and should, make a difference. We don’t need to sit back, in frustration or support, all of us can choose to care and to show that through our actions now.
Homelessness alone needs our caring action. It can happen to any one of us at any time in our lives. Every 20 minutes in Scotland, a household becomes homeless…and not by choice, by pure chance. Just recently, I’ve been helping out a fellow teacher. She’d taught for 20 years but a bad relationship led to homelessness, and then an addiction in a fight to cope. Now out of rehab, she’s fighting to get her life back…or at least a home.
Last year in Scotland, 30,000 of our people were assessed as homeless, and that’s only those in the system. There are so many sofa surfing for one reason or another, and therefore not included in these numbers. Reduced national and local budgets, cruel social security cuts, the lack of social and affordable housing, and low wages have all played a part in creating the monster that is homelessness.
Yes, we may still boast of Scotland having the strongest rights for homeless people, but let’s not kid ourselves that people don’t sleep rough on our streets every night – they do, and in increasing numbers! There are many reasons for this, from overly complicated and one size fits all UK welfare systems, to women sometimes feeling safer sleeping rough than in the accommodation allocated to them.
I’m SNP, you know that, and in a party that I believe tries its best to lead with compassion within the parameters of a restricted budget and powers. Targets for affordable housing already met, with more to come; legislation to provide safer and more secure tenancies; mitigating the bedroom tax; the Scottish welfare fund; and the work on the new, more compassionate, social security system…the list goes on. But, when even one woman walks our city without soles in her shoes, we know there is much more yet to do.
Homelessness, we know, is a complex issue and there is no one solution. We’re aware of the need for a more joined up strategy across departments and partners; greater preventative spending that seriously tackles the poverty and the other root causes that we teachers see played out in our schools; an innovative use of the many empty buildings across our city; more personalised approaches of support; safe accommodation for women, particularly those caught up in domestic violence…and the list goes equally on.
All of us need to get involved to end homelessness, not just the politicians. We can all play our own part, particularly in helping to educate people and end the stigma that exists.
And right now, before Slade plays out on Christmas Day…I’m starting with shoes! I know this young woman is by far not alone in her need for good shoes, so I’m taking forward a wee campaign to help Social Bite bring a bit more light into the lives of those caught up in the ongoing struggle that is homelessness. To do that, we need some caring ‘soles’ to buy shoes. Or to help in other ways. Maybe that’s you? See my slide for further details.