Man versus hill and other sorry tales

I heard some sad news the other day, a well known member of the local street drinking community had died at far too young an age. Like most of the characters you see dotted about, we never know their real names. In st leonards there is Beardy Hat Man, Sleeping Bag Girl, Banjo Man, Jingly Bell Stick Man, and Captain Black to name but a few. Then there was Man Versus Hill, a moniker given to a weather beaten young man who would gravitate to the main thoroughfares of st Leonards and the bottom of the hill and would then spend the rest of the day trying to struggle back up said hill again whilst paralytic. Man versus Hill died a couple of weeks back in the conquest hospital from organ failure due to chronic alcoholism, I doubt if he even made it to 40. 

I hadn’t really seen him around recently and, truth be told, I actually thought he might have sorted himself out as I remember him riding around on a bike for a while and I hoped he might be sorting his life out. How very wrong I was! 

Once a person has slipped out of the proscribed social structure it is very difficult to return. Be it through poverty, mental health problems or substance abuse, you soon become part of an underclass with friendship groups and a social hierarchy of its own. It’s impossible to escape from the social pecking order, even amongst the desperately poor, allegiances are made for the best begging pitches, to club together for the slightly cheaper multipacks of booze or to score drugs. This soon becomes their social and friendship group, making it nigh on impossible to leave. Wherever we are in the social structure, our friendship groups end up owning us and if they are less than healthy they will keep us stuck and drag us back down whenever we try and improve our lives.

To make any real change in any situation, we have to divorce ourselves from the people and situations that maintained the thing we need  to escape. Whilst a substance may not have a voice, those you shared that addiction with do and they will drag you straight back in because the last thing they wish to do is to admit that they have a problem or (more to the point) that they are the problem. You get away, start making your life better and then it is “why don’t we see you any more?” “You’ve forgotten who your real friends are” nostalgia is a dangerous thing and the worst thing is when people start trying to drag you back with memories of the good old days, of course, they were never good.

Whenever someone who fell through the cracks in the world starts to get their life into some sense of order and find themselves a place to live and even a job or some other more healthy focus. It isn’t long before ‘your friends’ find you and then it’s back to square one as you lose the home from all the complaints and your fragile new life is trod all over.

Ironically, the systems set up to help the poor, vulnerable and homeless are very much part of the problem. The shelter I pass ever day, and whose services I have used in the past, provides everything from a hot meal, a laundry and even a gym plus advice on housing and a way to get off of the streets for a few hours. Sadly though, what it also does is create a tightly bonded social grouping that encourages the users to remain stuck in their disadvantaged position in the social structure as it makes it very easy to remain stuck. I see the same faces, year after year and, as with prison, the old lags teach the younger ones all the tricks of the trade.

Sadly, one of the most toxic parts of this situation are the do gooders who think they are helping but actually cause more harm in the long run. The second you create a charitable situation you create an invisible line between those handing it out and those receiving it. To be on the receiving end of charity is one of the most demeaning things that you can experience and beyond the much welcome giving of cash to experts, who know what they are doing it, is wise to question the motivations of those who wish to be directly involved in charity. There are many reasons that someone gets involved in charity work, like gaining much valued knowledge and experience  in a field they wish to persue as a career, there are also less benign reasons though. There can be an almost vampiric trade off from someone involved in charity work if their motivations are entirely wrong. There are those who do it to look good amongst their own pier grouping because it makes then look like ‘good’ people, plus it makes a useful networking tool as being involved in charity work can be a useful  shorthand for the assumptions of others that you are their sort of people (whoever they might be), there are those who don’t have much of a life and need to find a way to fill it and give themselves a sense of purpose and worst of all there are those who get some sort of vicarious thrill out of being a better person than other’s and enjoy the feeling of superiority and self righteousness that goes with it.  Sadly, many of those who think they are being the solution become very much part of the problem as they bring along their assumptions, priorities and value and, whether they realise it or not, they can’t help but impose it on others.

On top of the self serving and aggrandising charity workers there are many failures in the social service sector. Sadly, ‘helping’ people has become a bit of a racket with departmental fiefdoms and work subcontracted out to private companies that used to be local authority departments bought up wholesale. Doing the same work but with corners cut to encompass a profit margin. Many of the staff are as damaged, if not more so, than those they purport to help. Whilst I don’t want to make sweeping statements, there are many in social work who are there for no better reason than it being far easier to cope with someone else’s problems than their own. The irony of this being that, as they emersed themselves in the chaos of other people’s lives, their own problems don’t seem so awful and they end up letting things slide even further at home. Those in the social work sector can become cut off from society in their own special way, just like the police and medical professions do. They have a tendency to become cut off in their own little world and the value of what they do for a living becomes distorted as they only interact with other professional fiddlers in the affairs of others. They may not even realise they are doing it but to those on the outside of that bubble they can be viewed as insular and self righteous. I.m sure it never started out that way but after so many meetings, so many residential training courses, so much focus on narrow spectrums of society, they can develop there own language and set of priorities that is meaningless to those outside their line of work. 

Sadly, I have met a disproportionately large amount of people involved in social work who behave absolutely appallingly outside their working hours. Displaying the most antisocial and obnoxious of behaviour that seems hypocritical in terms of their employment and sinks below the depths to which any of their charges would sink. I guess they assume that the work owes them something for their paid strictures, but who can really say? 

Whatever chain of events it was that brought about Man Versus Hill’s sorry end, I am quite sure much of what was above has a bearing on it. It is a sad reflection on events that while our sad protagonist finally  stagger from this planet, all those charity and social workers, do gooders both self righteous and lonely were most likely sitting around dinner party tables and their comfortable homes, nursing their own substance abuse issues in a civilised and accepted manner… It’s a funny old world!

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