Pippa Evans takes time out to trumpet the people making small steps when the world seems batso. In her first column, she’s encouraging us to laugh, and get angry.
Homelessness is on the up. We all know it. if you didn’t know it, your iPod is too loud and your sunglasses are too dark. I don’t blame you – being present in the world can really drag you down.
As a lefty left, but with a laissez-faire upbringing, the world seems a screwed up place to live. Weren’t we all taught to share when we were little? So why, as grown-ups, do we find it so hard?
Because to share is to care, and to care can be so painful: finding yourself overwhelmed by people suffering, needing help, being disrespected, being ignored, being silenced.
How can you help everyone? How can you live a lovely, friendly life when so many people are sleeping in wet sleeping bags under Charing Cross station? When children are dying of malnutrition in our super rich world? When disabled people still have to fight to get the bus to put the ramp down and old people have to have a helpline just for someone to say goodnight to?
We are overwhelmed. I am constantly hearing, through people at Sunday Assembly or when talking to friends, “I don’t know what I can do”; “I feel so helpless”; “It just seems so enormous that there’s no way to solve the problem.”
I wanted to find people doing great, small things to remind us that no, we can’t solve the world’s problems as individuals; but we can take small steps to making a difference. Let us be inspired by those who are doing a little something, hoping to lead to massive change. Every journey begins with a single step. Every cake with a broken egg. Let’s step in some cake.
Ruth Bratt is a friend of mine, (just citing that for the record – there is nepotism at work for this first article) and at the beginning of January, she was incensed at the treatment of the homeless in London.
Homelessness has risen by 16 per cent in the UK in the last year. According to statistics, 23 per cent of the homeless population live in London. That is massive but not surprising, considering the average house in London costs £473,000. Kinda gross, isn’t it?
Ruth put a passionate rant on Facebook about the treatment of Blue, a young woman struggling with homelessness in the Finsbury Park area. Blue had her belongings confiscated by the police, which meant she was now without bedding or warm clothes in the icy January winds. Apparently this is a way of “reducing the impact of rough sleepers on the community”.
Disgusted by Blue’s treatment, Ruth helped her the best she could, but was left feeling at a loss as what to do. Because for the long term, handing someone a tenner or bunging them into a shelter isn’t going to make lasting change. Which means we, as individuals in the moment, when faced with someone asking for help, can’t make a satisfying contribution other than some comforting words and a few quid to tide someone over.
And then we have to walk away. Walk away from a human who is suffering, knowing they are going to sleep rough for the foreseeable future, and we’re going back to a nice warm bed, a roof and a fridge. And that is hard.
“It’s a truly collaborative effort, born out of a real passion to help the homeless and, more than that, challenge and change the homeless situation in the UK.”
As Ruth’s Facebook post gained a lot of reaction, friends began to comment about their own feelings of helplessness. As one friend commented, “I feel enraged, depressed and helpless.”
“What can we do?” they asked.
“What can we do that feels like we are doing something? We are comedians, we know performers, we have connections with a few homeless charities… Let’s do a gig as a fundraiser! Not just a ‘let’s have a laugh and forget about it’ but ‘let’s have a laugh and then let’s get angry! Let’s go out there and change some things!’”*
*Dramatisation of the meeting for effect. Although I imagine, knowing Ruth, there would have been a lot more swearing.
Streetlink helps homeless individuals connect with local authorities, and St Martins helps people to move out and on from homelessness. There will be brilliant entertainment, but also information as to how you can help more in the London area. So bring a gang. Sell a few tickets. Do more than the minimum.
What I like about this gig is what it says about us as humans. One person makes a call out for help, others join in to help and together, they create something that helps people outside of their own circle. It’s a truly collaborative effort, born out of a real passion to help the homeless and, more than that, challenge and change the homeless situation in the UK.
So well done, Ruth and pals for turning your distress into action and stepping on some cake.
SOD THIS (for a laugh)! is at Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London on 9 March, 7.30pm. £10.
Can’t make it? Don’t live in London? Here are four practical things you can do if you are concerned about the increase in homelessness in the UK:
1. Use Streetlink to alert local authorities about anyone living on the streets you are concerned about.
2. Volunteer: charities need so many skills, so don’t worry if you are not hugely outgoing; you can be of great help without being people facing. Places include The People’s Kitchen in Newcastle, or Crisis who have volunteers all over the UK. Use the Google to find something local to you – you’ll be amazed what is going on in your local area.
3. Raise funds. Charities need money; that’s the sad truth. If you have no time to give, give money. If you can, give both.
4. Campaign: sign and share is the simplest way to help change government policy. Write to your MP and ask they what they are doing to combat the rise in homelessness in your area. Read up on what Crisis and Shelter are currently working on and get passionate about it.
Pippa Evans is a comedian, improviser and the co-founder of Sunday Assembly. She lives in London.