“The homeless are what you step over when you come out of the opera.” In the Nineties, the British Conservative MP (and now 6th Baronet) Sir George Young said that. Not very nice, is it? In fact, it is bl**dy awful. Young was the Minister for Housing and Planning at the time. His controversial comment created outrage.
The root cause of many of Britain’s destitute being jobless, homeless and penniless is alcoholism. But that can generate an assumption: that if a person becomes ‘down and out’; they must have been among the lower strata of society in the first place. “They were struggling to keep their head above water, hit the bottle, and then ended up in the gutter. Yeah, that’s it.”
Well, what about the former (£500,000-a-year) London-based music video director who is now sleeping rough in Cardiff?
And how did the senior fashion buyer for a world famous department store lose the lot (family, house in Buckinghamshire, well-paid job, pension, car, jewellery, clothes, shoes…) and end up spending her nights shivering in a sleeping bag in a shop doorway in Manchester City Centre?
And what about the man in his fifties who sleeps on a park bench at night and roams the Edinburgh streets by day, begging, looking for coins on the ground, and rummaging through bins, perhaps reflecting occasionally (and scarcely believing) that he was once the CEO of one of Europe’s most successful IT consultancies?
If an MP stepped over any of those three former functioning alcoholics as he came out of the opera, he’d never guess their background, would he?
Yes, all three people:
Were in positions of authority
Had never been in trouble with the police
Seldom missed work and other commitments because of their drinking
Excelled at their jobs and careers
Were clever, amusing and popular individuals
Were successful in just about every area of their lives (and always gave the outward appearance that they were functioning well in society)
But there was more to them than met the eye. They all had glamorous, exciting and highly rewarding jobs, but there was another side to them, you see – a hidden side that they all denied.
The real tragedy of it all? Available to them all along was expert help.
1 Wikpedia.org – Sir George Young, 6th Baronet
2 Alcoholism.About.com – What is a functional alcoholic?