Nathan…

…by Paul / from Perth, Scotland / studies MSc Literature and Modernity / 2nd year (PG)

2

“I swear you look a year younger every time I see you!” said Nathan*, as I approached him. “University life must be agreeing with you. Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it.”

Nathan is a friend I have made during my first year in a part-time MSc programme here. He’s in his forties, has dark, cropped hair with sideburns and a slender, weather-tanned face with laughing eyes. He says he used to be a soldier, and he still wears olive-drab fatigues. He’s the sort of person who lets his friends borrow his cellphone – he offered it to me once when I said I was short of call time.

Nathan isn’t a student. In fact he has no connection with the University at all, other than the fact that I regularly bump into him as I walk to campus. He’s a homeless man who begs on the streets. Edinburgh is a big city, and like all cities it has its street-people. Several years ago I used to work as a volunteer at a day-centre for the homeless in Perth, where I live. I got to know many homeless people, and to call some of them friends. I lost a couple of them to the Reaper – I saw another find a flat, a job, and a girlfriend.

That was a longish time ago. What Nathan has done for me is he has reminded me that homeless people are human. Street begging is a controversial issue. What I have realised, however, is that it costs nothing to give people a grin and a few words of conversation, to confirm that shared humanity. Nathan and I usually part with a handshake, and I actually feel honoured.

I’ve just put “Volunteering with the homeless in Edinburgh” into a search engine. It came up with several pages of results. If you’ve a mind to, then consider doing that search and checking out where help might be needed in the city you have made your home for now.

*Postscript:
‘Nathan’ is not my friend’s real name, of course. Since I wrote the article above, we had said goodbye for the Christmas break. I had been looking forward to catching up with him in the New Year, but when I arrived at Waverley station at the start of the semester, I found his photograph along with several bunches of flowers attached to the railings. Apparently he had died there on the street. Of course I feel bereft – I shall miss him very much – but his death goes to show how precarious life is for homeless people.


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