Late twenty-first century capitalism is unequal. Sadly, all too copious numbers of people have crashed through the safety net and ended up sleeping rough and taking up drug use. I observed this first hand when a man began sleeping on a park bench less than twenty feet from my apartment. Ireland has been in the dark grip of a crisis the like of which I naively believed our society had evolved past. People in Dublin felt so powerless that several activists joined forces to take over a disused building, Apollo House, to enable a multitude of homeless people to take respite from the cold weather over the winter. Bowen’s story takes us into the daily life of a man who became destitute in London. It is a harsh and harrowing tale at times but it is also essential for people to understand what it is to slip through the cracks and to come back from it. All credit to Bowen for turning his life around.
He did so with the help of a little feline friend whom he encountered meowing outside his abode one day. Bob and Bowen’s lives became intertwined and they helped each other to get through some dangerous times. Bowen always had a soft spot for cats but became a certified ailurophile after meeting Bob!
Society did not view Bowen as a person when he slept rough. People avoided eye contact and breezed straight past him while he busked on the streets of London. It is shocking to hear how dehumanised and worthless he felt. When he began busking with his new feline sidekick, the public began to look at him as a person again. This highlighted a strange sense of how society has been conditioned in modern times to empathise with animals more than human beings. Think of Tony Soprano crying over his ducks. He had a paradoxical ability to empathise with animals whilst violently killing people at the same time.
Have we learnt to just walk past homeless people and ignore them? I tried to help the homeless man near me by feeding him and calling the relevant public services that would get him into a hostel, which he refused on multiple occasions. Despite this, I still believe we could all empathise more. Miniscule gestures of benevolence can make the difference. Do we want to end up with a world where we just ignore fellow human beings who needs help?
Bowen was on a methadone programme to get clean and there was no doubt that, as people saw him as a part of society again, it helped him to turn his life around, “no one had engaged me in conversation on the streets around my flat in all the months I’d lived here. It was odd, but also amazing. It was as if my Harry Potter invisibility cloak had slipped off my shoulders”. Perhaps, we could all learn a little from Bower’s experience and treat the worst off amongst us as equals? Say hello, give them food. Help in any way we can. It may just turn a persons life around.