There was a homeless man who used to wander the estate where I lived as a kid, only we didn’t call them homeless then. They were known simply as tramps, or more euphemistically as ‘gentlemen of the road.’ (Oddly, there were no ladies of the road. The gentlemen were hard to spot, but the women were completely invisible.)
Our local gentleman used to hang around garden gates waiting for the soft hearted ones – like my mother – to take them a little food and a hot cup of tea, and then he wouldn’t be seen again for weeks. I suppose he and his kind had a territory, rather like salesmen. There were far fewer of them in those days, of course, unlike these more enlightened times when the Free Market God has grown so much more powerful and the wealth gap between rich and poor so much more massive in consequence. The pressures on people to conform are all but irresistible now, and those who fall through the cracks are easily swept aside.
The odd thing is that I never knew what happened to him. Nobody ever said he’d died, but he obviously must have done. It’s odd, isn’t it, that you rarely hear about the finding of dead homeless people. Is there a homeless person’s graveyard somewhere; or do they, like birds, die in some wood or hedgerow away from prying eyes never to be seen again? Or do the local authorities have dedicated teams (what a fine expression) who go around at dead of night collecting society’s detritus – rather like the ‘night soil men’ of old – and disposing of it quietly? And do the media quietly ignore the work of the bone collectors because those of us with homes and cars and insurance policies and multiple televisions don’t want to know? We are, after all, the successful ones, and it is rightly decreed that the failures are the architects of their own downfall and fit only to be ignored.