I started working with the Simon on the Streets Community in April of this year. As a new worker your first weeks consist of trawling around town and getting your face known. The most visible group of people we work with wear fluorescent orange vests and sell the big issue. Through my daily chats with these vendors I learned a lot. I’m sorry to say that it was also through them that I was exposed to the harsh realities of what can come through living a street lifestyle.
Neil was one of the first people I was introduced to. He was a pleasant and talkative guy in his twenties. The last time I saw him was on a Friday afternoon outside the coach station. He’d been suffering with what appeared to be a bad cold for weeks and I remember that he was doing his best to ignore a bunch of school kids who were hurling abuse in his general direction.
The following week the rumour didn’t take long to get around. A phone call confirmed that he had died at the weekend. Most of his friends found out at roughly the same time as I did. I remember seeing one of them marching down the street crying shortly afterwards. The death of a friend under these circumstances carries with it everything people normally go through during bereavement but also a brutal reminder of your own vulnerability. Through this trying time our support made a real difference to those people directly affected.
Four of Neil’s friends were particularly shaken by his death. Over the following weeks our team offered them support in a number of ways. It was important to them that they should be able to pay their respects and they turned to us to help them. We got hold of suits, shirts, shoes and ties for them to wear at the funeral. We paid for their haircuts, accompanied them to the funeral and offered a shoulder for them to cry on.
We stuck with them through a difficult time and I’m dubious as to whether they could have participated in the grieving process in the same way had it not been for the support we offered. At such a challenging time our efforts can be invaluable.