Ewan Aitken: Homeless need our friendship too

Ewan Aitken
Ewan Aitken
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My faith in human kindness was restored once again by the reaction of Standard Life staff to the beating up of a homeless man called Darryl.

Thanks to the extraordinary reaching out of Lesley Baldwin, who works at Standard Life, and several other of her colleagues, a fund has been raised by crowdfunding and Lesley has made sure Darryl is getting support from Cyrenians and others.

I was particularly struck in the report about Darryl in this paper by Lesley’s quote, “I am friends with a homeless man, Darryl, and his dog, Max”. Darryl is described not just as someone in need but her friend in need. In her words and her actions, Lesley has lived, in a very powerful and challenging way, the golden rule “love others as you would have them love you.”

At the Shelter Scotland Conference, which was held in Edinburgh last week, a woman called Suzanne, who has lived experience of homeless, spoke very powerfully about how her experience of being homeless had carried such stigma that she felt she “lost her identity” in the process.

That loss of identity was, in many ways, as hard to recover as the material needs of a settled home, income and access to food and clothing, which are often seen as the solutions to homelessness.

They are fundamental, but without dignity, without the opportunity to be in relationship with others as an equal throughout the whole journey from homelessness to stability and flourishing, they are not anything like the answer.

Shelter Scotland and Cyrenians, along with ten other organisations, have written this week to the Scottish Government calling for a new strategy for homelessness.

We need a strategy that puts dignity and compassion at its heart. We need a strategy that puts the power of relationships at the heart of bringing about transformation for those most excluded; relationships that are persistent, patient and plan free, a strategy that understands that the journey from exclusion to inclusion is an inner journey.

That takes time, needs to focus on the whole person so the person who is homeless shapes what success looks like, not anyone else.

And as Suzanne put it so well at the Shelter Scotland conference, this is needed urgently precisely because it takes time.

The support Darryl has received is a testament to this city, but it is only the next step in his journey, one he must be given the space to define.

Wisely, Lesley and her colleagues have made sure he has support on the way. There are, sadly, many thousand other Darryls in Scotland. They too need support materially but more importantly our friendship in word and in action.