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The Life Of Brian – In Guildford

Published on: 24 Oct, 2012
Updated on: 25 Oct, 2012

Brian – Homeless in Guildford. His sign says, “I am homeless – Sleeping rough – Please show you care – Thanks”

By Martin Giles

To my shame I have to admit that I normally walk straight past beggars. Having seen a little of the third world I wonder how they can still be so destitute in our welfare state. I also have thought that it is something that should not be encouraged.

Today I walked straight past Brian. He was sitting at the North Street end of Jeffery’s Passage. I got a few yards on and remembered that I was intending to write something about homelessness in Guildford. What better opportunity, I thought, to find out about it from someone who appeared to be homeless.

So, an about turn and a few steps later, I introduced myself as a local reporter and asked Brian about his experience. He said he was from East Hampshire, near Petersfield,  but there was nothing for him there any more.

Why Guildford I asked? He said that he had been moved on from several places but the police seemed more understanding here. They had advised him that he must not have a bowl in front as that would be regarded as begging but he could show a sign explaining his circumstances and then if people chose to give him money it was deemed unrequested. That was permissible.

Having attended a council meeting only the evening before where homelessness in Guildford had been reported on at some length, I asked Brian if he had registered as homeless with the council. The council officer giving the presentation had stressed that early registration was important. Brian said that he had tried but as he had no links with the town, at all, he had been told he was not allowed to; so he slept rough.

I asked permission to take his photo and gave him a pound, extracting an obviously unenforceable promise that he wouldn’t use it on drugs. He did not look like an addict but I don’t imagine it is that easy to tell. There was no indication that he had been drinking either.

I can’t remember ever speaking to a homeless person properly before and came away  feeling rather pleased with myself for having made the effort (ridiculous on reflection, especially considering my ulterior motive of obtaining information). Brian had been perfectly polite and reasonable and perhaps atypical.

Anyway, I was pleased that Brian was receiving decent and correct treatment from our local police and pleased to hear at the council meeting that there are council officers well aware of the problem, walking the fine line between proper and compassionate treatment and not being seen as a soft touch.

Now though, I am wishing that there was some better way for Brian to spend his time than begging. He might not wish to be helped but surely he is capable of doing something to help our town in return for us providing, in some way, shelter and sustenance. It’s an age old problem, of course, and not one Guildford can solve in isolation.

What do you think? How can we help the homeless in our town? Should we be more generous or is tough love the best answer? Please give your view by using the ‘Leave a Reply’ feature below.

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Responses to The Life Of Brian – In Guildford

  1. Caroline Reeves

    October 24, 2012 at 9:45 pm

    I have had several conversations with Brian. He was living in a tent, managing a night in a B & B when he had saved up enough money. The Homeless Outreach Service Team (HOST) are aware of Brian and have tried very hard to find him somewhere to live.

    As far as getting any work, it sometimes comes down to needing an address and a bank account, neither of which are possible for Brian at the moment. The Surrey Law Centre have also been very helpful in trying to get support for Brian.

    With much colder weather coming soon, Brian needs something positive to happen soon.

  2. Patricia Gibson

    October 25, 2012 at 9:05 am

    Well done you!

    Guildford YMCA does a magnificent job for vulnerable young people in this town. Brian looks to be in the right age group to receive their attention.

    Perhaps you could swing by there and get things moving in the right direction for Brian – one step at a time!

    • Martin Giles

      October 25, 2012 at 9:37 am

      Thanks Patricia, but I must make it clear that my motivation and my job is to report the story and the situation.

      Personally, I do hope it will encourage others to do more. It is a difficult problem and we are lucky that as a country and a town a lot is done by good people in the council, in charities etc. to help the homeless and others in need. But we can never rest on our laurels.

      I am working on a report of the council discussion of the situation. I hope to publish soon.