There is a virus more virulent than Covid or AIDS ever was and it affects all humankind. It is the virus of kindness. When someone catches the kindness virus it is very easy to pass. I have lived through many lifestyles and experiences, good and bad, and I have always been most affected by the kindness of strangers.
A very kind and witty friend of mine in heads up Help the Homeless Cardiff. Although I have never knowingly passed a stranger in distress without some gesture, meeting her made me realise just how much a smile or a conversation can mean to someone sitting on the street with clearly no home to go to. Section 35 of the Vagrancy Act 1803 states that it is a criminal offence to be homeless. It is going to be rethought over 200 years later. Only eight councils in the UK still use it to remove street sleepers off the streets, Cardiff being one of them. It means that not only being homeless and unable to claim benefits you immediately have a criminal record which does not bode well for future prospects.
My friend not only gives out a winning smile to the street people, she carries underwear and deodorants and when you haven’t washed for a few days or more these are very welcomely received. The face that you see on the street holds back many tears and the person holds back many stories. Let’s face it this property climate and the focus of selling for profit and second homes, and the rental market diminishing this could easily be you or me.
It led me to think about the refugees who come to this county some of which my friend has also adopted. We came to the conclusion that the homeless or “ceilingless ones” and the refugees or “stateless ones” have a lot in common. The main thing being a general lack of compassion shown to them, a distrust and a disrespect and the assumption that you have made your live choices deal with it yourself. And where section 35 takes care of street sleepers the endless wait for right to remain affects the stateless ones leaving them in limbo and no right to work
I looked in horror recently when I saw plans for a barge to be docked in Portland, Dorset to house refugees. This had previously been used house homeless. What an utterly inhumane and abhorrent solution to the vast growing issues for both the ceilingless ones and the stateless ones.
In the years to come people will not only be fleeing from war and persecution but also the effects of climate change and prolonged droughts. It beguiles me that so many show such little compassion and although I should probably bar myself from Twitter, the comments that I have seen there make me shudder.
It has to be said that this country back through centuries has been the cause of much current disrest in other parts of the world. Imperialism and capitalism have clearly played their parts.
It seems to me that it is time to rectify the past and show a generosity of spirit towards fellow humankind. It may well be true that If you have food in your fridge, clothes on your body, a roof over your head and a place to sleep, you’re richer than 75 per cent of the entire world’s population. If you have money in your wallet, a little change, and can go anywhere you want, you are among the top 18 per cent of the world’s wealthy people. If you are alive today with more health than illness, you are more blessed than the million people who will not survive this week and die.
We in the privileged West have our own social ailments but it does not take a huge leap of imagination to be able to extend kindness to those who have never had what has been given to us for centuries.
Next time you see someone clearly not having a good day, smile, make eye contact, make small conversation that shows the love in your heart. One day that person will do the same to someone else and so the virus spreads.
You can find Help the Homeless Cardiff on FB and offer your support, locally contact PATH Pembrokeshire Action for the Homeless which helps around 2,000 people every year here. You may want to find out ways you can help our stateless friends via the Welsh Refugee Council and Refugees at Home.