Begging on London Streets

According to Crisis the Autumn of 2012 counts and estimates suggested there were 2,309 rough sleepers on any one night in England  a rise of 31% (541) from Autumn 2010, when the figure was 1,768 (


Have you ever slept rough? Or ever had to beg for some change in the hope that it’d make your day that bit easier? So many people have told stories of waking up one day and their lives just taking an immediate turn for the worst. The consequence of sudden redundancy, divorce or the death of a family member can lead to a person’s demise. These are some of the tales I’ve heard whilst speaking to those in need at homeless shelters and feedings.


One Friday evening in March (15th) I finished work and headed home, I’d been writing some really thought provoking pieces in the months before and I wanted each piece to hit harder than the last. On my journey home I was sat deciding on subjects and ideas, then it dawned on me that the one subject which was closest to my heart was the one I hadn’t touched in that much detail. I decided to write a piece based around homelessness and little did I know that a few hours from that moment, I’d be sat outside Waterstones on Oxford Street.


Now before I share that experience, for those who have never read any of my previous work, I’ve been homeless in the past; it was a very short stint, but a character building period of my life to say the least. I’d slept rough and at that time it was late October and freezing. It was a horrible experience and not one I plan on reliving, it was the loneliest time of my life but during that time I realised who was really true to their word; it’s fair to say not many were.


Five years ago I was one of 1,768 for 5 nights, five years ago I was one of 1,768 who were in the cold whilst you were in the warmth, and five years ago I was one of the lonely, invisible 1,768 people who you may have casually walked past. In March 2013 for an one hour and a half I begged for the first time ever on the streets of London and in this instance I didn’t need any money, I just needed to experience what life is like for the 2,309 people who now sleep rough each day and be reminded of how it felt to be forgotten by society because at one point five years ago I was in a similar position but I found my back. Little did I know that I’d be sat teary eyed and overwhelmed by the amazing people walking London’s streets.


I arrived home at 7.30 that Friday evening and saw an old cardboard box by the front door, I’d recently moved to my new home, which is a short five minute walk from Oxford Street; my life had changed dramatically. So with the box in front of me I decided to search for a permanent marker, eventually settling for a black Bic biro which I’d thrown down on the kitchen counter the night before after writing my to do list and a red biro I’d used to cross off everything I’d completed.  On the cardboard box I’d written “This is me today, it could you b Tomorro. Selling my pride”. Now the poor grammar was intentional as was the misspelling of ‘Tomorrow’, Amorro is my surname.

Norra's sign

I wanted to almost instil a sense of guilt; I was being very assumptive and didn’t anticipate the magnitude of what I was about to experience. When a person’s begs they’re not simply trying to get something for nothing, they’re stripped of everything and admitting ‘I have nothing’. To me they’re offering the last thing they have and that’s their pride and although it’s not tangible and adds no value to your life, simply shedding their pride in exchange for a few coins has a far more detrimental impact on their emotional state than whatever you give them would have on your bank balance. Now in no way shape or form am I trying to guilt trip anyone whose reading, the more you read on the more you’ll understand my feelings and views.


I then went in search of old worn clothes and trainers I’d ran ragged, they were hard to find in my wardrobe so I resorted to old house clothes. The walk from my front door past the Sanderson hotel and Arcadia Group building was a stark contrast to what I’d anticipated it would be. I didn’t feel like myself anymore, in fact I felt so far from society that I felt as though I was back in 2009. I sat on the floor outside Waterstones on Oxford Street, the next hour and half would totally change my perspective on life, people and everything I thought about society.


The minute I sat on the floor I felt an immediate affinity to every homeless person I’d come across begging on the streets; taking my place on the floor, it was as though I’d entered the world of the lesser man with my sign letting those walking London’ great streets know I was a man down on my luck and in need. As people were walking past me I couldn’t lift my head to make eye contact, not only was I conscious of being recognised as this would show that I wasn’t genuine. I felt a sense of embarrassment and guilty for asking people to sympathise and take pity. I had no cup, just a piece of cardboard with a message; I clearly didn’t think this through. I hadn’t exactly made it easy for people to show their concern at a distance, if they wanted to give me anything they’d have to directly put it into my hand; in some regards I felt this deterred them.

Five minutes went by and I began to feel the cold. Although I’d wrapped up warm, wearing three layers and a thick padded coat, it still never felt like it was enough. So sat and feeling a little lost with the cold slapping against my cheeks, I heard a coin fall onto the cardboard, I looked down at the cardboard reluctantly and saw a one pound coin, a woman, who I only saw the back of, had noticed me. In that moment I felt relieved, like wow someone actually cares that I’m sat here; they do know I’m here. I was short of breath for a few moments after; I don’t know if it was guilt or the relief of having been noticed.


A couple minutes went by and I sat questioning what everyone made of me being sat there. Were they offended by me? Did they sympathise?! I just went in to a chain of different thoughts and questions. Then unexpectedly an elderly gentleman came and stood over me, I questioned whether he had stopped to check a message on his phone or search for change, I looked up properly to see his hand out; he handed me £2.50 then asked if I have somewhere to sleep. I was in a daze and taken aback. I said “thank you so much and I don’t but I know there’s a hostel nearby and I’ll be going there later.”, He responded “Have you heard of Two Step, they will help people like yourself”. I later got home and googled Two-Step to discover; Two Step are an organisation that supports single homeless people to access and sustain long-term accommodation.

Norra on the street

The elderly gentleman showed such compassion and a genuine concern for my wellbeing which put me in an emotional state. I was overwhelmed. I said thank you and I will look into and he wished me all the best, I could sense he wanted to do more, but the fact that I knew I wasn’t genuine and I was doing this all for the purpose of the experience and this piece meant I had to distance myself draw the line. He went on with his night and I remained seated clutching my piece of cardboard, little did I know there were going to be a good few more heart warming moments and an hour from when I began that I’d be making that short walk home with tears rushing down what was in that moment, my freezing face


Minutes past and I kept my head down clutching the cardboard, I’d become immune to the cold by now and slowly began to zone out of what was going on around me, it was like the world was moving at a million miles per hour and I was just simply there. I don’t know how long had passed between the Two Step gentleman, but it felt like forever. “Sor-eh mate, erah”, I’m handed a five pound note, I look up to put a face to the voice of this kind hearted Scotsman, he asks; “are you ok?” to which I respond “thank you so, so much”, “don’t worry, I hope it gets better for you”. My heart begins to feel heavy; there was something about this man that told me he had been down on his luck in the past. As he walked off I kept hold of the five pound note. Still thinking about what just happened; I sat for a few minutes just staring at the floor, taking everything in. I then put the note in my right pocket, the same place I’d put the coins I’d been given earlier. Minutes pass and I’m sat holding the cardboard, gazing at the floor, I hear the kind hearted Scotsman’ voice again, “I just gave you a fiver”, in a panic I reach into my pocket and ask “do you want it back”, “no no no” he says “that’s yours, I just want to know if you can direct me to Piccadilly”, I lift my head and tell him “you just go straight up to Oxford Circus station then take your first left and walk down and you’ll be there”. He says “thanks mate” and reaches down to shake my hand, there’s another five pound note he slipped in the handshake. As he walks off I say “thank you so much”, not wanting to take praise for his kind gesture he responds with “its fine mate”. I just sat in awe for a while, not at the fact that someone who knew nothing about me has just handed over their hard earned money, but the fact that he was so sincere and I wondered what his story was. I felt submerged in guilt because I knew in some ways I was tricking these people, but I reassured myself with the knowledge that what I was given will be passed on to people who needed it.


In such a short space of time, so much seemed to have happened, it was no surprise after that these small gestures and acts continued. I was sat looking down once again, processing everything that had happened, then I heard a shout from a distance, “mate you ok?”, I looked up and saw a rubbish truck and was slightly confused for a second, he shouted again “mate are you alright, do you want a lift anywhere”, I was so taken aback I couldn’t even speak. I raised my hands and gave him a ‘thumbs up’, I was so choked I couldn’t even raise my voice to shout back to him. They saw me and still they had every right to drive on and every excuse to act as though I wasn’t there, but they didn’t, he didn’t, he stopped and made a kind gesture, which was so clearly him going out of his way for a stranger who he thought was down on his luck. I was so taken aback that I sat and told myself “I can’t do this”, I was so emotional at that point. I was just stumped for words.


For minutes I sat once more after the bin men had gone and was still reeling in shock at how caring these people had been. I wasn’t oblivious to the masses that had casually walked past me without even so much as glance, but I knew those people existed and in all honesty I expected everyone to be that way with the exception of one or two. What I didn’t expect was the amazing characters and people who stopped and showed their love and compassion for a stranger. It didn’t stop there, I heard heels clicking towards me and I could tell this woman was coming directly to me. I kept my head down, she put her hand down and I put my hand out and she dropped some coins into my hand and said, with such a comforting and reassuring tone, “don’t ever be ashamed, you are a human like the rest of us, we are all equal”. All I could muster was “thank you so much”, the second she walked away that’s when I realised I couldn’t keep it in and I hid my face in my coat and began to let out a flood of tears. I was already so emotional and her comments just overwhelmed me to a point where I couldn’t hide it anymore.


As I’m writing this, I’m looking at my word count and I just want to say to whoever is still reading this far in, there are still a few more amazing people to come. I don’t want this piece to just skirt over my experience I need you to understand what I felt whilst I was sat on the floors outside Waterstones on Oxford Street.


After my little cry, I lifted my head and just sat still and watched the people go by, thinking about everyone who had been so kind, I began to notice the ones who didn’t even glance in my direction, the ones who walked past and kept their happy conversations flowing. I wasn’t mad at any of them. I just sat and hoped I’d never become one of them. As I was just watching people go by I could hear a loud group walking in my direction, I looked to my right and saw a group of three boys, who were dressed in tracksuits caps and hoodies. They looked a little sinister and me being ignorant in that moment, I assumed they were probably going to either just walk past me without even a glance or maybe even poke some fun at my expense. Never did I expect them to show any understanding. “Yo, any of you man got some change on you” asked one. “nah nah” responded another. I looked up in their direction as they were walking by, slightly confused and wondering if the request for change from his friends was for my benefit. Sorry mate none of us have got any change on us”, I quickly said “that’s ok, thank you anyway”. Under my breath I whispered to myself “wow”. It was surreal, I expected nothing from them. My ignorance showed and I sat once again in shock at what had just happened. It wasn’t just the one act of kindness or consideration, it was happening consistently and often. I’d been sat on Oxford Street begging for all of forty five minutes and the experience couldn’t have been further from what I anticipated.


Little did I know that my sign would soon offend. Staring directly at the floor, I saw a man’s feet in front of me, looking up once more he puts his hand out to hand me a couple pound coins. He says, with a French accent, “I just have to say I don’t like one thing. I don’t like that you are threatening the people. You should not be saying this could be you, you should be saying I am like you”, I was once against lost for words, I was so nervous in that moment, I didn’t expect to be challenged and immediately I knew his point was valid. I’d noticed such a change in myself from the minute I sat on the street, I became timid and vulnerable. This wasn’t me; I am usually calm and composed. It’s just in the environment that all changed. So I cowered my head down and the French man saw I was somewhat reluctant to responded and I couldn’t help but stutter on my words, saying “thank you” and “I’m sorry”. He wished me well and walked away. It was then that a woman walking past handed me a half eaten container of salad. This was what I had always done, handed homeless people food instead of money because I’d feared that they’d take whatever I’d given them and spend it on drugs or alcohol. I didn’t know how to feel about the salad, but I was grateful to say the least, I just knew it was going to waste because I couldn’t hand it to anyone without feeling as though I’d offended them also. As the woman walked off almost embarrassed at her good deed I sat with the container by my side still clutching my piece of cardboard.


For the minutes after the woman had given me the salad, all I could think about was how much I wanted to just head home; something a real homeless person couldn’t do and I took the decision to call it quits an hour and a half in. I picked myself up of the floor, folded my sign up and turned the corner, walking back up the way I came. I was crumbling again and more emotional than I had been whilst watching Gareth Southgate’ miss a penalty during Euro 96 against the Germans. As a nine year old I cried over that missed penalty, but this was different. There I was, a grown man, crying in the same way I’d seen Sean Anderson cry, as his now wife walked down the aisle on his wedding day. I was so overwhelmed by London’s great hearts. Right then and there I wanted for nothing more than just one thing, I wanted the world to feel how I felt. That feeling where somebody cares; when I appeared and seemed as though I had nothing I still had their concern and compassion.


I became immune to those who casually walked past me, they were just dots in the background; I struggled to notice them in the same way they failed to notice me. I felt no malice or anger towards them; they were just being true to their nature. But it was those who did choose to stop that really got me and on the off chance that any of them may be reading this, I’d just like to say; you are amazing and I wish you all the best and would love to take you out for a coffee one day so please get in touch. Your contributions were handed to several homeless people camped out on Tottenham Court Road, I stopped to wish each well and I sincerely believe a few kind words can make a difference so please continue.


After arriving home, I could do nothing but sigh, sit and stare, reflecting on the past hour that had totally restored my faith in people, Londoners and humanity in general. Although I knew my experience wasn’t fully organic it was as real as I could make it. The great Scotsman, Mr Two Step, the “You don’t have to be ashamed” lady, the hoodies, the French man, the bin men and even the half eaten salad lady, you all helped to change my perspective on society in general and you’re all a big part of this piece, which I hope will encourage every reader to just stop and give them a few kind words at the least. I just hope you’ll understand that those people you walk past daily just need a little love. A few kind words can make a huge difference.


With the UK’s coldest winter since 1947 on the horizon, it’s fair to assume those who are sadly on the streets this winter, won’t be having an easy time to say the least. If you can do anything at all, below are a list of Charities and shelters across London, maybe volunteer. Your love and time is worth far more than your change and notes. Your love can change more than the change you give. If I’m ever down on my luck, that’s what I’ll beg for, your love.


Please support and help the homeless in UK by supporting these charities that help them everyday:


The Salvation Army:



St Mungo’s:



Written by Norradean Amorro

Tweet Norra here: @supernorra