What do you do when your photo is retweeted
26,000 100,000 times and Sky News phone?
They were a few simple photos that I thought my friends might be interested in, maybe they’d feel a bit of the anger I did when I took them. Maybe we’d have a chat on Twitter about our rage, and then get on with the rest of our working days. But within 48 hours, my photos had been shared
26,000 100,000 times on Twitter; been picked up by all the major UK newspapers and broadcasters online; I’d been interviewed by the Press Association and The Telegraph, appeared on Sky News, and been invited to be appear live on LBC radio. Today I’ve already taken a call from ITV News and I’m on Jeremy Vine at 12.30pm.
My story has gone viral…
On my normal walk to work about ten days ago, I noticed some metal studs in the ground near the sheltered entrance to a pretty typical block of flats. After a while it occurred to me that these were probably* installed to prevent homeless people sleeping rough.
*yes they were.
Such a vile thought was enough for me to get my phone out and snap a picture. A live debate immediately kicked off on Twitter. David Wells tweeted: ‘These anti-homeless studs are like the spikes they use to keep pigeons off buildings. The destitute now considered vermin.’ But others wanted to defend their use, Gavin Logan tweeted: ‘There will be a context behind those anti-homeless spikes. Possibly a last resort against someone who was aggressive and refused housing.’
I don’t consider myself to be much of a social activist but there I was on Sky News being asked what I wanted to see happen now. Did I want to see the studs removed? My own actions, and this wave of responses were taking me on a journey. An inspired journey which is motivating me to want something bigger than just get the studs removed.
I don’t want this to just be seen as ‘socially unacceptable’.
I’d like it to be ‘legally unacceptable’ as well.
Why can’t we legislate against this?
That would be the real victory.
Some have argued that it’s not illegal to put studs on private property – that business or property owners have a right to prevent rough sleepers who may leave a mess or be an eyesore to some. But what’s the thinking behind putting studs there? Surely some nice plants would suffice, look less ugly and, most importantly not send out an offensive message. Do we really want to see homeless people treated like vermin? Is that what we think they actually are? Don’t we believe that they, like us, could be so much more?
We’re not going to solve the homelessness problem in our towns and cities by creating physical deterrents to sleeping rough. There are other options. The Lighthouse in Woking, where I live is just one of those places.
I don’t want this to just go down as a ‘Twitter outrage’ story, studied by journalism students across the country – here today, but forgotten tomorrow. If we’re serious about trying to transform this country for the good, then we can start by looking after our most vulnerable. Not just retweeting about it, actually doing something greater.
For me that involves thinking, speaking and serving. Figuring out, ‘Who is my neighbour?’ then trying to take small personal steps towards honouring my convictions, honouring one another, and in doing so honouring God.
Ironically, I’ve been pretty bad at stopping to speak to homeless people or helping them out. A month or so ago I was really cut up after a guy came up to me and asked me for some money and I said :‘Sorry, I’m about to catch a lift somewhere’. I walked away and turned around to see him crying against the railings of the train station. I resolved to not be so ineffective next time. It seems a couple of photos I took have catapulted me into a position to speak out, to do what I can and make a difference. What will you do today?
‘The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want.’ Mark 14:7
‘And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’ Micah 6:8
You can follow Andrew @worldviewmedia.
Have you signed the Rough Night petition? We’re calling on the government to take action to help those sleeping on the streets.
UPDATE: London Mayor Boris Johnson joins the debate:
Spikes outside Southwark housing development to deter rough sleeping are ugly, self defeating & stupid. Developer should remove them ASAP.
— Boris Johnson (@MayorofLondon) June 9, 2014