His greeting was answered with barely recognisable answers. Voices raw, lips unable to form the letters and words properly anymore, the group hanging around in the park had brought damage to themselves by consuming copious amounts of alcohol and drugs, and living rough. He was a relative newcomer to the group, his voice and lips still able to produce a proper ‘hello’.
The group brought much needed connections, how strange that may sound for people who live on the streets. But think about it: living rough means you have the need to find a place to sleep every day. One that’s dry, and from where you’re not chased by angry owners. Which leads to the theme of safety. Connections, or at least belonging to a group, means some sort of protection. In any city around the world, the ones living rough lead tribal lives.
As he takes his first swig of cheap liquor, he checks his watch for the time. Ten past three. At least, that’s what the watch says. But the battery is dead. So, he can’t be sure about it. In fact, it’s 8:30 in the morning. Living rough means rising early: as the city comes to life, you’re awoken by cars, planes, machinery and all the other loud noises a city produces.
He and his friends yell at passers-by. Mocking them for their haste, their direction, their way of walking: full of purpose, urge, and the conviction that life will be even better tomorrow, as long as they pass that test, make that deal, get that promotion, find the love of their lives. He used to be one of them, not long ago. And life was going well. Until… Until… Well, until he failed. Miserably. Lost his job, his home, his partner, everything. And found himself having nowhere else to go but the streets and parks of a city he hardly knew. He had hitch hiked across Europe, until he found a place he thought was a good one to live rough in. That’s how he ended up here, in this group, mocking the people walking by.
At least, that was his back story. His cover. In reality, he hadn’t failed. That is to say, he had failed many times, but had learned from that, and improved himself. He knew now how a lot of things should not be done. He had made mistakes he would never make again. Not that he had a job, but he had funds. Sold a company for a relatively good amount. Now he wanted to use that money to do good. For people. One of the problems he wanted to do something about, is the fact that in economically developed places, there were still people living rough. To really understand the why, what and how, he had decided to become one of them for a period. So he could help them better. He took another sip of water. Fortunately, sharing bottles was not a habit the people in his group appreciated. He listened to their stories, and with every story he listened to, he came to understand them better. With every story, he learned more about the people behind it. Every story seemed very much like the one he fabricated for himself.
With every story he realised how much the people living rough were people. Humans, who did not make the choice to live the way they lived, but simply did not have the luck and connections others had. Or didn’t have the tools to successfully cope with unfortunate events disrupting their lives in too quick succession.
People. Just like you and me.