I’ve been meaning to write a blog post for a long time, taken over by the ‘busy’ life we all lead, there are moments in time which make you stop and catch perspective. Yesterday was one of those. I got a phone call from Bath Time (Student magazine) who interviewed me for a piece on homelessness they are writing - "Is that man Itsvan, the one you mentioned, is his name... Itsvan Kakas? I think he's dead."
I met Itsvan in May 2018 as I made my way around the UK to listen and capture the stories of people experiencing homelessness for my project ‘Motivation of the Invisible.’ Itsvan died from Leukaemia in October 2018, a matter of months after I met him.
The usual outpouring of love always comes when someone dies. Onlookers never get a credible idea of what this person was like from these messages of sentiment and sorrow - even if most of us wouldn’t like to admit it. Itsvan however, without doubt, is fully deserving of these messages of kindness and love.
He was one of the first people I spoke to that truly welcomed what I was trying to achieve and made me feel at ease immediately. He spoke to me about his life, that he was from Hungary, that he used to be a chef under Gordon Ramsey and how he loved Bath and the friendliness of the people there.
At that moment, stood with him, a local walks past with his family, stays to have a chat and hands him £5. He wanders on after a few minutes to enjoy his Saturday with his partner and children.
“He does that every week” Itsvan says. “He knows that I’m a big Liverpool fan so makes sure I have enough to buy myself a pint at the Pig and Fiddle down the road. I go in there for one pint. Just one. I sip it slowly so I can stay in there for 4 or 5 hours and watch all the games.” He laughs (like a mastermind that's cheated the system).
Itsvan was football mad. Beside him, a suitcase with all of his belongings, propped up against the bridge, inside - a football. He get’s it out and we have a kick about on the bridge (to the annoyance of passers by). He tells me not to kick it into the river and that he once saved a father and daughter from drowning, subsequently receiving the Bath Mayor’s Citizen award in 2014.
What struck me was how positive Itsvan was. Irrelevant of his circumstance, he greeted everyone that walked past him, even cracked a few jokes. The response didn’t always echo his sentiment however, the uncomfortable stutter, “Uhhh, sorry, uhhhh, I don’t have any change”, the shuffle of feet, the change in pace to get passed Itsvan as quickly as possible.
I witnessed this as he allowed me to film him on the bridge (you can see at the start of the video below). As a society we are ill-educated on how to engage with others. There is also a huge misunderstanding of what The Big Issue is and aims to achieve. Speaking to Stephen Robertson (CEO of The Big Issue Foundation), he explains it’s a job. It’s a choice from the person selling to set up “a newsagents without a shop” and they should be treated as such. These people have made a choice to work, try and earn a living and are as deserving of respect as anyone else.
For me to put this in terms for the everyday Joe, think of it like this. Just as you may enter a shop and not buy anything, neither are you under any duress to buy a Big Issue, it’s your choice. However, if someone working in a shop asks if you “Want any help?” or gives you a “Hello”, a “Good morning.” Generally people will respond, out of politeness. Yet as soon as a red jacket is seen in the corner of one’s eye, the reaction changes. For what reason?
There is a stigma there that we may not even realise in ourselves. This article is not a guilt trip, it’s the opposite. My mission for the past year has been to teach people that it’s OK not to give, it’s OK not to buy a magazine, it’s OK to say “good morning” and walk on. We have to stop feeling guilty. We cannot help everyone we walk past. But... But we can acknowledge and offer that human contact which makes us feel human, important and valued.
The sooner we stop caring about how a situation makes us feel, rather than the person in need, the sooner we will learn to interact, be kind and help those in need. In other words, the sooner we get over our guilt and realise saying “Good morning” (even smiling if that's too hard) is kind etiquette and better than walking past ignoring that person, the better.
We ignore, walk on and pretend to be busy on our phone not because we don’t care. It’s because we do care but fear that whatever we do will hurt the person more - 'rub it in their face' as such. It’s really a selfish decision and one that we need to stop.
“Good morning” means nothing to you if you have a support network, if you have a job, friends, a partner. You are desensitised to it’s meaning because you hear it, every day. Flip the coin and for someone on the street, for someone selling The Big Issue, it can make their day, change their outlook and give them the strength to keep going. It’s the ripple effect and it starts with a stone but if you don't throw it then there will never be a ripple. Take the "risk" this week, say hello, share a smile, even use 3 minutes of your lunch to ask someone their name and have a conversation. They're not going to follow you home, ask to sleep in your house and bother you for the rest of eternity.
As Itsvan said, just "a hello would be nice!"
Read more about Itsvan's story from the Big Issue here.