Ann spent some thirty years helping the homeless …getting them medical and psychiatric help, helping with food runs, collecting furniture for them, fighting the local council or the courts on their behalf.
We failed her, and now she’s dead.
My brother knew Ann because her house was opposite the place where a group of school cleaners gathered for a cigarette before starting their shift. Over the years he started chatting to her. It turned out that her mother lived around the corner from him, so their friendship grew.
She was a middle class, Christian, woman who had inherited a large rambling house when her father died. She didn’t push her religion but my brother had run into her, with others, handing out leaflets around town. It was probably through the church that she first got involved with homeless people, doing night meal runs.
He used to see her loading up or unloading furniture and household stuff from her old banger, and her place became a sort of warehouse; full of stuff for people being rehoused, single mums, and so on; anyone in need really. She wasn’t fussy.
She was divorced and had a teenage son who seemed to float between her and his dad. She held down three jobs at one stage: two cleaning jobs and one delivering pizzas. Her life was becoming quite a struggle and she began to talk to him more and more about how difficult it was to keep the house going, to keep her son properly fed and to keep her old car on the road.
When he last saw her she looked so distant and pissed off that he insisted that they went for a coffee and a chat. She ended up telling him how worried she was about everything. There was someone she was trying to get rehoused, her personal financial situation was a real problem, her son’s exams were worrying her, and Society’s distant attitude to anyone with any kind of social problem was a particular issue for her, personally, and for the people she was trying to help and protect.
She was worried that she was slipping into depression and had joined a support group to try to sort herself out. The fear of losing sickness benefits and being pushed back to work when she was barely functioning with the tablets she was taking, was really weighing her down. She was also really angry: angry with society and the government because of all the horror stories of people having their benefits cut overnight; but also angry with herself for feeling so useless. At the time, she seemed to be angry enough to turn her situation round. She was hopeful that the tablets and the support group would be enough to help her turn the corner.
A week later she took an overdose.
She was taken to hospital and discharged thirty hours later without any backup because the system was overloaded and couldn’t provide the support she needed.
Ann was found the following weekend.
She had hanged herself.
Her entire life had been spent trying to ease the lives of others and when she needed help we let her down.
What a tragic testimony to Britain 2019.
What a disgrace.
What shame it brings to us all.
As a postscript, it turns out that Ann’s elderly mother is now working to try to ensure that kids don’t go hungry during the school holidays. How can people with so little give so much….?
What are the rest of us doing? Not just on a personal level, but who are we calling to account?
Who is failing us just as we have failed Ann?
Remember, it only takes a minor disruption, a tragic trick of fate, in even the most well-ordered and comfortable lives, to turn it from a delight to the depths of destitution.