While walking to work early yesterday morning I saw a man lying on his side on the ground huddled up to a plastic grit bin in the middle of a pedestrian walkway under a large roundabout. I saw him lying there from quite far away, unmoving, dirty dark clothes, dark downtrodden boots, hood up, and as I approached him he still didn’t move at all. No-one else was around, and I did think about just keeping my head down and walking on by, hesitated for a second, then decided to trust my gut instinct…
So I went up to him and asked if he was ok… no response at all, no sound of anything, no clear signs of life… so I called again, a little louder… still no reponse… and as I leaned over to give him a gentle shake to make sure he was still breathing, he suddenly moved to sit up on one elbow, an older man with wrinkled weathered face and grizzly grey hair and beard. Relieved to see him move, I apologised for disturbing him and explained I was just wanting to check that he was alright. He smiled at me, although I had clearly disturbed his sleep, and assured me he was fine – and he thanked me for checking he was OK. I smiled back at him, and went on my way to work.
I thought about it later, replaying the incident in my mind, and realised something – when the man spoke to me, his voice had surprised me. He was very well spoken, with a sober, soft and very gentle refined accent – not at all what I had assumed he would sound like at all. I realised I had assumed someone like him would have an incoherent (through drugs and alcohol) gruff, harsh working class accent – I’d made a snap judgement based on a stereotypical prejudice I didn’t even know I had, based on my small-minded preconceptions of what a ‘homeless person’ was, and it bothers me.
I suppose we all have these sub-conscious assumptions and biases inside us, whether we’re ever made aware of them or not… 😦