Who Cares?Posted on 10th March 2016 by Sean de Podesta
2016 began in a way that really emphasised to me the problem of social isolation that the Neighbourhood Care Scheme seeks to address. Just as I was preparing to leave the office at the end of my second day back at work after the Christmas break, we had a phone call from Jim, one of our volunteers. He had just been to see Michael, the 80-year-old man who he visited through the scheme. He had got no answer from the doorbell and Michael’s phone was engaged. In the office, we contacted the hospital to see whether Michael had been admitted (he hadn’t) and then Michael’s landlords (a housing association), who suggested that we call the police. We did this, and were assured that they would call round to Michael’s flat to check that he was okay. Two days later we had a call from the Coroner’s office to say that Michael had been found dead in his flat. We don’t know how long his death had gone unnoticed.
Over the Christmas holiday, The Argus reported the deaths of three homeless people on the streets of Brighton & Hove.
All these deaths are of concern and raise serious questions about our society. Why are people dying alone? Why are people dying on the street? Who cares?
Every morning and evening I walk through the centre of Brighton and am struck by the number of interactions between passersby and people roughing it in doorways. People stop and give them a coffee or a bag of shopping or some change. Or just stop and have a chat. I have been touched by the many simple acts of kindness I have observed. They have changed how I act with the homeless people I pass – in fact, I no longer always pass by but will stop and say hello to people or give them some of my loose change. I can see a person during these brief exchanges rather than just looking away from a social problem.
Rough sleepers are all too visible. And seeing them, people respond with kindness. People do care.
Many of the people supported by the Neighbourhood Care Scheme are invisible. But they are not forgotten. At any one time, we have about 200 volunteers visiting people. And since January we have had 28 people apply to be visiting volunteers with the scheme. It is heartening to encounter so many people willing to do something about the isolation that can result from old age or physical incapacity, and to be able to put that neighbourly good will to good use.
Why are people dying alone? Why are people dying on the street? These questions still need to be asked, and answers found. But people care.