It’s raining. He’ll be soaked. I passed him on the way down the Ormeau Road. He was vomiting up cheap red wine. He was on his side, curled up in a ball, barely conscious, barely feeling his pain. He’d surrounded himself with bottles as if they were a wall against a hostile world. In a sense they are; drink keeps the horrors at bay. I know he’s a chronic alcoholic. I know that abrupt cessation will kill him, but not before it floods him with all his terrors, makes every nightmare come true in his own virtual reality show.
It’s been weeks since I saw the posters. They weren’t just on telephone boxes. Big money was spent on billboards. Don’t give money to the homeless; it fuels the addictions that keep them on the street. There are some serious defects in this reasoning. When I tell you who the organisations are that promote it, you’ll have to wonder if they aren’t just lies invented to frame a vision of the “Undeserving Poor”.
I’ll save the names ’till the end. It builds up suspense, dramatic tension written in the sufferings of others. I’ve become a participant in a kind of porn in which the violation of basic Human Rights and dignity become the big erotic thrill and witnessing a person’s downward spiral a source of profound moral satisfaction. It’s true what they say; it’s easy to sleep on another man’s wound. My bed’s warm and dry, my bathwater hot and soothing. Medication makes me pass out. I know the nightmares come. I rarely remember them, but I know that homelessness plays a large part. How could it not? You don’t get to transcend the experience. It’s a gaping wound that never heals, written in my flesh, the knife marks a reminder that you can never escape your roots.
Lie number one; addiction keeps people on the streets. The retort to this is obvious; not having a home to live in keeps people on the streets. Homelessness is a product of social policy. If you want to end it, build public housing. Give people housing benefit so they don’t get evicted. Give them social security benefits. Give them social support. You may find this manifesto offensive. If so, please come out of the closet. You’re a Social Darwinist. You want the weak to die in the gutter. Don’t talk about compassion. Don’t do that. It makes me very angry.
Lie number two; addiction is what causes people to become homeless. The retort; it is eviction that makes people homeless. But, I hear you say, people feed their addiction rather than pay the rent. If housing benefit does not pass through the tenant’s hands this can’t happen. But what if they’re working and refuse to budget their earnings appropriately? This happens. When people’s lives unravel they focus on escape from their pain. If they feel pleasure doing so, it’s easy to get hooked. For some people chocolate and cream buns are the equivalent of a sexual afterglow. Addiction exists in the brain. It’s a chemical process. For a smoker, the relief of their cravings is, they say, bliss. You can structure your day around the next nicotine fix. People can manage their addictions. It’s not what makes them homeless. If their lives are unravelling, they need support not condemnation. This, however, does not fit the narrative. You either stand on your own two feet or you fall and keep falling. There’s no bottom to hit. That’s why it’s called the abyss. A man, an actual human being that I have seen, could die tonight of hypothermia or pneumonia and it’s not because he’s an addict. It’s because he’s lying in the gutter in the rain. His only way out’s a pauper’s grave and people who pretend to care should admit that they’re content for that to happen because he needs to hit bottom or die trying. And if he dies, he’s only himself to blame. They could spend money providing him with somewhere warm and dry to sleep, but they’d rather invest those resources on an advertising campaign that tells people to not act on empathy and common decency because that harms their victims. Black is really white.
What is “Unconditional Support for those in need”? I ask because The Welcome People print it on the side of their vans. It’s awful good of them to say so. If it were true they wouldn’t use it as a giant virtue signal. “Aha”, you say, “That’s who you’re talking about.” I don’t doubt that volunteers think they’re doing a good thing; every cup of hot soup helps. Believe me, I know. I’ve appreciated it. I know what hunger feels like. It’s not nice to be dependent on those who judge you so harshly. That’s the whole idea behind charity; the moral dominance of the donor over the recipient. It’s the moral degradation of Human beings. Fuck justice; you don’t deserve that. It’s worse, far worse. It’s the assumption that some people don’t deserve the basic right of shelter. It declares a hierarchy of Human worth and those at the bottom have to hit bottom or die.
The PSNI, the DePaul Trust and the Welcome People together sponsored this campaign. If you give money to these charities, you’re an enabler.
Sleep well, if you can, on the wounds of others. We all walk by, our guilt alleviated by the vilification of empathy.