A few evenings ago I was on my way to a function in Peterborough. I parked at the top of the Broadway and, as I got out of the car, a homeless man walked up to me and asked if I had any spare change, writes Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Jason Ablewhite.
My initial reaction was to apologise and tell him that I had no change, as I know that every agency involved in supporting homeless people tells you not to give cash, that there are other, better ways to help people move off the streets into permanent accommodation.
As I turned away, I heard the man say: “that’s no problem Sir, have a good evening. His politeness caused me to turn on my heels and tell him that he could have whatever change I had in my pocket. I gave him the £4 I found.
He thanked me politely and then, as I carried on my way, he appeared at my side again and asked if he could walk with me a while. I agreed and he asked if I was off to dinner somewhere. I told him that I was and he then asked me what I do for a living.
“I’m your Police and Crime Commissioner,” I replied to which he said ‘oh blimey’. It was a slow walk as he had a crutch. I wanted to know how he had ended up homeless so I looked him in his eyes and asked if the reason he was on the streets was related to either alcohol or drugs.
“Drugs Sir,” he said and continued to tell me that previous to being homeless, he had had a family, a job, and a home and then he got into drugs and everything changed. I commented that it must be very difficult when he looks back and sees what he once had. “Oh yes Sir, I miss my family but I wouldn’t want them to see me like this.”
I arrived at my dinner venue and told him it was good to meet him and that I had enjoyed chatting to him. As we parted company he said ‘God bless you Sir, it’s been good to meet you too.”
It occurred to me that the man I met would one day be just another statistic.
I often talk about drug dealing keeping me awake at night. The people that make their living exploiting others in this way need to be stopped. But it’s not something police officers can tackle alone. It’s vital that we continue to work in partnership and within communities, educating people about the dangers and the harm drugs can do to them and their wider friends and family.
As drugs become more and more prevalent in our country, we all have a duty to stop the next generation from becoming yet more statistics, and to teach them about the reality of what drug misuse does to our communities.