Imagine for a moment you are John Anthony Bird. You are 74 years of age, which seems like you are the most antique of persons. Imagine that for close on 30 years you have been running a homeless project that suddenly folds in the middle of a pandemic. And that you are unable to keep the show on the road, because you are banned from the road, the street, the high street and the plaza; and anywhere else the public congregate. Banned from selling the product that you developed with a team back in 1991, and which has put millions and millions of pounds directly into the pockets of people in need.
So what is to be done? Here I am having to drop out because it is the staff of The Big Issue itself who have jumped to the task. I am, dare I say, ‘the pretty face’. I’m wheeled in and wheeled out for press and publicity, for TV and radio. I’m the mouth. And by God what a mouth I have on me.
But imagine that you are the said Bird and you are called down to Victoria in London’s centre to do a TV news item about what the government is doing about the homeless in a new world where everyone has to socially isolate. And there you walk swiftly past 50-60 people sitting around, completely abject. Homeless, rough-sleeping human beings, the children of mothers and fathers like ourselves. Of course, being the said Bird you have been marinated in homelessness for even longer than the 30 years of The Big Issue. Sure, were you not homeless yourself as a child and youth and runaway? Surely there is nothing to surprise you in this day and age around street living.
— The Big Issue (@BigIssue) March 27, 2020
Unfortunately the said Bird was overwhelmed. Completely and utterly overwhelmed by the sight of the homeless gathered, broken, suffering and hurt. Why?
Because when I have worked with homeless people over the years, and when we first started, I was struck by the belligerent sense of spirit. They thought I was a prick, on most occasions, but they kept that spirit. What I saw in Victoria was the broken spirit, the dispirited, the overwhelmed-by-abject-suffering.