A Travel Tip for Visiting New Cities

Here's one of my travel tips for visiting new cities. Mostly an excuse to tell a story really. Part of my ongoing auto-hagiography.

When I was twenty I was homeless for about a year. I slept in squats, cars, hostels, night shelters, shop doorways, car parks and a whole bunch of other places. The concrete multi-storey car park, woken up at 6am by a security guard every morning and with cardboard for a mattress if we were lucky, was the worst. The cold of the concrete seeped right into my bones and I swear some still resides there in a numb part of my leg.

I was involved with a charity working with the homeless for about eight or nine years, six of them employed part time doing service development and community liaison. The cult I was part of had a particular "ministry" of serving the homeless and vulnerable. During the ten years I'd lived in the cult commune at "The Farm" we'd had homeless people, ex homeless people, and about to be homeless people with us all the time. Not always on the run from the police or doing cold turkey from heroin, but frequently. Only one person died of a heroin overdose on the premises whilst I was there, in his car overnight. He was my friend. I didn't see the body or got to his funeral. Anyway, all fodder for other stories perhaps. I've known a lot of homeless people.

I often travel to new cities where I'll stay for a few days or a week. For fun, for conferences, giving training or other work. I do the same in cities I visit regularly. Which means London, that's the only city I visit regularly (ooh plus maybe Birmingham and Brighton these days). I always give some money to homeless people. I consider it paying my local taxes.

Not money to all of them, not a lot but not nothing, something worth having if I can or just my change. And not money every time, although maybe a few times to someone on a regular route. Because I do it regularly I don't ever feel like I owe anyone anything, I do it because I can and because I like to.

I always smile at homeless people and say hello. I have a conversation with them if I have time, I don't always give money with the conversation. I often talk of when I was homeless in Cambridge. I was pretty well looked after really and begging was easy, lots of rich people around. And they'll tell me their story, or some of it.

This is very good karma. Particularly in a city I'm new to. I don't need to be afraid of the streets. As I walk around in an unfamiliar city I have people to smile to and people happy to see me again. And if I'm ever in any trouble there's a good chance I have a friend nearby and possibly another one watching my back down the road.

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