2 November 2016

Bret

The man with the faraway eyes has gone. Every Wednesday afternoon over the last two years I would see him. Usually, he'd be sitting outside the "Spar" shop on Ecclesall Road but occasionally he'd be outside the NatWest Bank at Hunters Bar.

He had a ginger-brown beard and a woolly hat. He was a beggar and his name was Bret*.

Sometimes I gave him change and once I bought him a sandwich and a drink. For a beggar, he was quite polite - never really hassling people but those faraway eyes told me that he probably had mental health issues. I would say hello and occasionally ask him how he was doing but I didn't want to get too close. After all, where might that lead? Perhaps to somewhere I didn't want to go.

There's a concrete lamp post outside the "Spar" shop, very close to where Bret would sit. In recent days it has been decorated with bunches of flowers and there's a note in a plastic sleeve informing passers-by that Bret's funeral will be at City Road Crematorium next Monday morning. I think I will go.

It has been difficult to find out what happened to Bret - how he died. Rumour has it that he was in a block of flats in  the Sharrow area of the city and was pushed over a balcony or staircase by a woman who was later arrested.  It is all rather hazy.

Some people say horrible, cruel and dismissive things about beggars. You might have heard the tired old remarks they dish out:-
  • they're all drug addicts
  • if you give them money they'll spend it on drugs
  • they get the money and then jump in sports cars to drive home
  • if you become a beggar it's entirely your own fault
and so on ad nauseam. Talk about man's inhumanity to man!

In my view, every beggar has his or her own unique story. They should never be bunched together or prejudged. Turning your back on beggars makes you no better than the priest and the Levite in the story of The Good Samaritan. We may not be able to right the wrongs in this world but we can show some kindness to beggars.

Rest in peace Bret - young  man with faraway eyes. Rest in peace.
____________________________

On Sheffield Forum, I later discovered that his name was spelt unusually with a single "t". His mother - Dee - also referred to  her son's struggles with drugs. She thanked other Forum visitors who had had kind things to say about Bret.

31 comments:

  1. That is so sad. And even sadder, to me, is that so many people are so jaded and cynical that they say the things you mention about a fellow human being. Even if a person is a drug addict that doesn't make them any less worthy of my empathy and compassion! And I would hate to be so suspicious of others' motives that I suspected them of pretending to be homeless just to make money. I'm sure it's happened before, but I doubt it's common. Even if someone IS running a scam, that's on them, not me. I couldn't feel okay about myself if I was that callous to the suffering of other human beings. :(

    I give small amounts of money to homeless people pretty regularly. I figure once I give it to them, it's theirs. How they spend it isn't my business. And if alcohol or drugs can ease their suffering for awhile, who am I to judge? Many, if not most, homeless people are mentally ill and that's certainly not their fault. There but for the grace.......most of us could end up homeless and destitute under the right set of circumstances!

    Those are my views on beggars.

    Good for you, being kind to Brett. I'm sure it meant a lot to him. And judging by the fact that a funeral is being held, you're not the only kind person he had contact with. I'm glad.

    Rest in peace, Brett.

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    1. Thank you for these reflections Jennifer. I am sure that some homeless people are indeed scammers but that doesn't mean that it's acceptable to tar all homeless people with the same brush.

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  2. Life can be so hard for some; and it's not for others to judge when they have no idea of one's story.

    Those who carelessly and recklessly judge - who have no idea of the truth - probably are the most ignorant of all.

    One person's reality isn't another person's reality...and that's the reality.

    In the words of the song -

    "If you see your brother standing by the road
    With a heavy load from the seeds he's sowed
    And if you see your sister falling by the way
    Just stop and say, you're going the wrong way

    You got to try a little kindness
    Yes show a little kindness
    Just shine your light for everyone to see
    And if you try a little kindness
    Then you'll overlook the blindness
    Of narrow-minded people on the narrow-minded streets

    Don't walk around the down and out
    Lend a helping hand instead of doubt
    And the kindness that you show every day
    Will help… "

    You showed kindness towards Brett (and I'm sure others), Yorkie...and good on you for doing so.

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    1. I hadn't really listened to the lyrics of that song before but now I can see why you shared it. Thanks Lee.

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  3. It's unsettling when people just suddenly disappear like that and without a chance for goodbyes or well wishes. I hope that Brett is in a better place and that his funeral gives you a sense of peace.

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    1. If I go to the funeral I hope that I will be going to show respect to Brett, not in any way for me.

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  4. A fantastic story. It's sad it had to end like that. Still, there's nothing you could've done about that.

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    1. No. Like various other citizens of Sheffield 11, I did a little bit to help him. Just saying hello to acknowledge his existence - I think that can be a fine thing for homeless people who are sometimes overlooked like shadows.

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  5. It's nice that you at least have some idea what happened to him. Sadly, it's not the safest life, to be homeless. I think people try to distance themselves by saying dismissive things. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Creating that sense of distance seems to be a way of insulating one's own life and outlook.

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  6. Homeless, as we call them here, each have their own story as how they got to the place they're in. Many programs that would be of use to some of these people have been cut. Many of these people should be in treatment of some kind. Kindness goes a long way.

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    1. When we visited Vancouver in 2014, we were startled by the number of homeless street people we saw. It was the same in Seattle and Portland.

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  7. How thoughtful of someone to put a notice on the lamp post. Brett was probably a regular part of many people's lives as they passed by on their daily routine.

    As for beggars being scammers of money, I was once on a train when I saw and heard a young man bragging about the money he had accumulated that day. I recognised him as a regular near a city church who always looked forlorn and down and out, with only a dog as a companion. I laughed and had to admire his audacity; after all there are many scammers of money and more than a few are dressed in suits costing thousands of dollars and operating from an enormous office in some skyscraper.

    Oh dear, my comment is now post size.

    Alphie

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    1. I don't think I would have laughed Alphie. His activity was damaging to the plight of genuine homeless beggars.

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    2. You're kidding ! Scammers who try to cheat people out of money are completely different to people "down on their luck" asking for a little help!

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  8. There are groups of Eastern European beggars here in town who are organized and exploited by their ruthless fellow countrymen. None of the shabby, sad men and women sitting on bits of cardboard, holding a throwaway coffee cup out and muttering heavily accented greetings and implorings are there because they got up one morning, saying "Hey! I know what I'll do for a living - I'll be a beggar! Yay! Out in the fresh air all day, constantly in touch with lots of people - the best job in the world!"
    No, these are poor human beings who were lured into leaving their home countries by false promises of a better life, only to find themselves mercilessly exploited by their bosses. The bosses are the only ones who profit from any money given to the beggars, and because I do not want to support this system of modern slavery, I never give them anything.
    Then there are the ones like Brett, on their own, fallen through the mesh of social services and relationships that could have prevented their becoming homeless. I must admit I do not give them any money, either, but that does not mean I don't see them as human beings, entiteld to respect and dignity as much as I am.

    If I were you, I'd go to Brett's funeral service, too.

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    1. In England we have many Eastern European car washes. Though the workers are not beggars as such, they are exploited by their shady bosses. It is shocking that our authorities haven't broken these "businesses" up.

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  9. RIP indeed YP. Who are we to criticise when we don't know the circumstaces which brought him to that. The very fact that flowers were laid and a note about his funeral, suggests that others felt as you do - and I take comfort from that.

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    1. Yorkshire is a kind county. Most of us care for our fellow human beings. Though I never asked Brett to come back to our house for a meal and a shower I don't think that makes me uncaring and selfish. I never said I was Jesus.

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  10. This touches on a subject I was thinking about this morning, and that I think I may blog about tomorrow -- the fact that it's easy to demonize people when we speak in generalities, but much harder when we think of individuals. You knew (sort of) Brett as an individual, and that opens a channel of communication that's missing when we just dismiss "beggars" or the homeless as a class of people. Know what I mean?

    It's a shame Brett's story ended that way. Some people have awfully hard lives.

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    1. Yes I do know what you mean Steve and I concur entirely. I hate it when people say things like "Scandinavians are miserable" or "I hate the French" or "Americans are thick". Generalisation can be one of the hallmarks of ignorance. I look forward to your post on this theme.

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    2. Please excuse me Mr Pudding for using your blog as a contact centre.
      I want to ask Steve whether any other people have had problems leaving comments on his blog.

      Maybe ( horrors!) he has banned me from commenting...

      Alphie


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    3. Hi Alphie! You most certainly have NOT been banned. On the contrary, I hope you keep commenting! I'm not sure why you're having trouble but I haven't heard from anyone else with similar difficulties. I notice that the photos aren't loading at the moment, though -- so maybe there are server issues at Google?

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  11. It's trying to decide who is genuine and who isn't, and I feel so sorry for those who are genuinely homeless and in need of any hand-outs from the public. Their plight is undermined by those who are scammers.
    Here the beggars all seem to have identically written signs, usually proclaiming the same message. I was horrified when in Bergen, Norway, last year, to see so many beggars - all sporting exactly the same signs as those here ! It looks as though there is an international begging ring !

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    1. Bret never held a sign and he didn't have a pet dog on a rope. All he had was a soft, semi-apologetic voice and sad, faraway eyes. In wintertime he sometimes trembled.

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  12. A sad story. I wonder if one reason that seeing beggars makes us uncomfortable is that they are reminder that there but for the grace of God etc.

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    1. I think you are right Mr P. They reveal our innate vulnerability and remind us that the line between us and them is hazy.

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  13. My comment could easily turn into another post as well. I shall exercise restraint. I'm sure there are gangmasters and their beggars here now as there were in Dickens' time. I've never seen proof. Oddly I did see proof in New Zealand which did not have beggars on our scale by any means. Our late son always gave to beggars (which, as he lived in London, must have cost him dearly). Of course we must not generalise about people (be they beggars or Liverpudlians) but we are human and we judge subconsciously even if we don't consciously or academically. Beggars do make me uncomfortable and it is because they are a reminder, amongst other things, of there but for the grace of God (so to speak) go I.

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    1. If I came across you begging on my first visit to Stornoway I would buy you a delicious sandwich from The Good Food Boutique. Choose from the following:-
      - Smoked Ham & Hot Tomato Salsa
      - FarmhouseCheese & Fruit Chutney
      - Homemade Humous, Carrot & fresh Coriander leaf
      - Italian Salami, Mozzarella, Vine-ripened Tomatoes topped with Red Pesto Mayonnaise
      - Pastrami & Chilli Picalilli

      Good on your late son for being kind to beggars.

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  14. My former upper middle income husband and father of 4 college educated children sits on the brink of homelessness at any given time. Here in the states, people with mental illness are left to fend for themselves and since, often times, they are their own worst enemy, it can go very badly. I don't judge and I try to help.
    A friend of mine knows all the local homeless names and call them by it so that they know someone cares enough to bother. I like that.

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    1. In America it must be even harder to be homeless. We noticed Vietnam veterans in Santa Monica in 2005 - with all their worldly goods in shopping trolleys. That's not right. I like the fact that your friend knows the names of the local homeless folk. Then they're people not just numbers.

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