‘EX BRITISH ARMY’ was written in neat handwriting on an aged piece of card in a clear plastic wallet, medals sitting proudly within.
Despite being hunched in the doorway, heavy brown tweed coat covering his frame, you could tell the robust man behind the medals had a commanding stature.
The flat cap on his broad head looked ready to topple off, but somehow it stayed intact, although not quite managing to contain the long, wiry, grey hair that lay beneath, merging in with the coarser hair of the equally wiry and grey, overgrown beard.
His eyes were bright, probably too bright (alcohol maybe?), looking out on the passers by.
As I walked towards Euston Square and first spotted the words ‘EX BRITISH ARMY’ I nearly stopped dead.
Someone who has fought for our Country, how can they be on the street, homeless, fighting a different fight, just to get a few pounds to have basic needs of food and drink met.
Why? How did this happen?
Passers by passing by, not even noticing or maybe not realising the significance. THIS MAN FOUGHT FOR US! FOR OUR COUNTRY! And yet here he is, on the streets of London, begging for food..
What’s gone wrong with the justice system in this Country; to looking after those who have looked after us, those who made sure we stayed free and able to live the lives we are leading today.
Giving this man loose change felt like I was insulting him, like I was belittling where he had come from and where he had been, but he was desperate. He so very clearly needed all the loose change he could get.
As I carried on my journey to work, and saw other homeless people – one was a regular outside Farringdon station, a man in his late fifties, with his devoted dog; he too wore a long beard but was half the size of the ex Army man, this man was curled up in his usual place of sleep, right on the corner but in a sheltered spot, away from any harsh winds – I wondered what their stories were, why did things get so very bad that they have ended up living on the streets. It made me realise that anyone could be just a few months away from being homeless.
Mortgaged to the hilt, you lose your job in the recession. No savings to fall back on, and no jobs around, you fall behind on mortgage payments – you aren’t insured for your mortgage, you didn’t know you could be and you certainly didn’t think it was necessary! You are forced to try to sell your house, but it’s not that easy. The Market is slow and there are no buyers. Your house is repossessed and you have nowhere to go.
I don’t know how the Councils housing process works, but the above is a feasible situation. Throw into the mix that there are no options with family or friends and before you know it, you could be on the street.
A sobering thought. As I walked into my place of work, I felt grateful for all that I had but also made a mental note to call a Financial Advisor.