Having spent most of my adult life working in Central London, particularly in Soho and the surrounding areas, it was impossible to ignore the rising numbers of rough sleepers on the streets. It was the daily sightings and interactions of homeless people that led me to become interested in voluntary homeless work.
Why I'm part of Linkey by Katie
I began with Crisis at Christmas, a week long programme run by year long round homelessness charity Crisis, providing shelter and a safe place to be over the festive period for rough sleepers. The variety of people I met absolutely astounded me. From former professionals who had lost everything for a range of different reasons to ex servicemen who had struggled to integrate back into daily life on their return from army service. Every single person I met had one thing in common though; they were all human beings.
Following my Christmas experience, I knew I wanted to commit to something similar (within the homelessness sector) all year round, and then the opportunity of joining the Linkey team arose and I grabbed it with both hands. I knew our founders Josh and Tash from years gone by, and I reached out to explain I was really keen to be involved. Slowly the team grew and the Linkey family was born!
To me, the Linkey initiative was so simple - get out onto the streets, speak to rough sleepers, and try and provide them with just a few basic essentials to make them that little bit more comfortable through their nights and days on the street. Now I say this is simple, but really it's probably just about the most pertinent thing that can be done. Putting the 'items' we provide and the MUCH wider issue of a nationwide housing crisis to one side for a minute, striking up a conversation with someone who may have gone a whole day, or two, or three without speaking to anyone, can be so powerful and this is how I knew why.
I used to get off the Tube every evening at my local station, and walk across the road to catch the bus home. A few years back, I noticed a homeless gentleman sitting on the ground outside Waitrose. It was bitterly cold and so I offered to go and get him a hot drink. I returned with his coffee, he said thank you and was really grateful, but I could tell he didn't really want to chat. So I smiled, wished him a safe night and hoped that I wouldn't see him there again the following day. However, that wasn't the case. The following evening, I noticed him there again, sitting and shivering, people passing him by. I went to buy him a coffee again, took it to him and sat down alongside him. It took a while to get him talking, but when he did, we spoke for 40 minutes. He told me his story (he became a victim of homelessness through the tragic loss of his wife a few months earlier) and explained how he was trying his very best to resolve his situation. When our conversation drew to a close, he said to me: "You don't know how much it means that you've sat and spoken to me, taken interest in me and treated me like a human being." He went on to explain to me just how much being 'spoken to' meant, and having to sit on the cold hard ground, at the same level as people's feet, quite literally made him feel like a second class citizen because he was quite literally positioned at a 'lower' level than others.
This was something I continued to hear from other interactions with rough sleepers over time, and it became apparent to me that the art of conversation, something many of us take for granted as it forms part of our daily lives, means something very different to those on the streets.
The majority of people on this earth should not be prevented from accessing the basics; shelter, food and water. Whilst many do face barriers from accessing these things, there are things we can do and are doing to help provide respite from the terrible conditions rough sleepers endure, however we appreciate that more often than not there is money involved in providing these things. But a smile and a few words cost absolutely nothing.
With that in mind, I'd urge you to do those two simple things when you next see a rough sleeper - smile and say a few words; 'have a good day', 'keep warm' or 'stay safe' - it'll mean more to them than you'll probably ever know.