Column: We can all give a smile to a homeless person and it’s free

I’ve been working for Derventio Housing Trust for a long time. We help people who have recently experienced homelessness into safe accommodation, writes guest columnist Jackie Carpenter.

By Jackie Carpenter
Friday, 6th May 2022, 2:00 pm

I’ve met many folk who have been through some very tough times.

But one chance encounter really struck a chord.

I was walking down a street one day in the 1990s when I spotted a chap sitting there.

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Jackie Carpenter, Derventio Housing Trust.

To be honest, I was pretty wet behind the ears and didn’t really know much about homelessness.

But I did think I might be able to help.

Not wanting to talk to him from my (admittedly not very great) height, I crouched down so we were on a level.

Immediately I noticed something. Nobody wanted to look at me.

The theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, running from May 9 to May 15, is loneliness. Jackie Carpenter, from Derbyshire housing trust Derventio, says you’re never more alone than when homeless - but a smile can work wonders.

It was like when you’re rattling a tin asking for money. You’re avoided. People hate to engage.

On the street that day, that chap and I might have been invisible. Unseen.

I only had to put up with it for a minute.

What would it be like 24 hours a day, seven days a week?

Because when you’re homeless, it’s not just that people walk by without looking, de-humanising you.

Relations have likely broken down with family, so they’re not in your life either.

Often people don’t want to admit their situation to friends.

Heartbreakingly, some I’ve have spoken to say that’s all they had left: one bit of pride they weren’t a burden to others.

Research shows we need at least ten human interactions a day for our mental health.

Even something like buying a newspaper counts.

When you’re homeless, you haven’t got that option.

It’s why we re-instated our officer visits to people in our accommodation as soon as we could during Covid.

Loneliness was beginning to set in. In fact, lots of people who use our services, like our Growing Lives scheme, say we’re like family.

I always say giving money to people on the street is purely personal choice. You may be facilitating a drugor alcohol habit as much as helping someone eat.

But one thing we can all give to a homeless person is free.

Just a simple smile.

A smile says: ‘I see you.’

Just by doing that, you’ll be making a big difference.

And that’s definitely worth smiling about.

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