Homelessness is your problem too

We live in a bubble, but that’s no excuse for sticking our heads in the sand when it comes to homelessness

Big Issue Big Issue Seller Cambridge Cambridge Hub Cambridge University homeless Homelessness Rachel Tookey

Today I went to Sainsbury’s. I go every day, it’s the social hub of the university. It’s practically the student’s union. And of course, I ignored the Big Issue seller outside of it.

It wasn’t because I wanted to be rude, nor do I intend this piece to be rude about Cambridge students. It wasn’t even that I didn’t want to help him out, because I do. But when I walked past him today, I just didn’t want to dedicate the energy to processing what I was seeing. It was partly because he represents a world of social issues that I’ve rarely had to engage with or consider, and partly because I didn’t want to make the effort to dig around in my pockets to see if I had enough change. So I switched off, and walked past him.


I find in Cambridge we get used to switching off. You see it in the ‘Cambridge walk’: that determined stride, eyes fixed ahead staring down the looming deadline, fiercely ignoring everybody else around me. This is especially useful when every third person I walk past in Cambridge happens to be someone I know, or auditioned for that time I tried to be a thespian in first year, or pulled in Cindies last night. It’s an attempt to avoid engagement and being forced out of our personal bubbles.

Cambridge is an environment where it’s all too easy to declare that you are ostriching from the world. That environment has its benefits, for sure – I’m not here to lambast it. The problem is that the real world all too often gets pushed out of our considerations. We live in personal bubbles inside the Cambridge bubble. The city centre is dominated by the university and tourists: even it starts to feel like a non-town that isn’t quite connected to the real world; a bubbly reflection of the reality.

Eli – a big issue seller in Cambridge

The problem with ignoring the real world is that it doesn’t stop existing. And I’ve been finding it increasingly harder to push it out. Maybe I’m just a jaded second year, or maybe I’ve ignored one too many Big Issue sellers. Whatever the cause, I’m now trying to engage with the real world. I’m beginning by addressing the social problems within it which I feel are my responsibility too, even if I’ve been privileged enough not to experience them first hand.

And because I’m egotistical and because I’m sure I’m right, I think you should do the same: stop switching off and start trying to engage with the world. I’ve begun by getting involved with fundraising for local charities, like Jimmy’s Night Shelter and Cambridge Rape Crisis Centre. I haven’t done much, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever make a difference, but for me it’s a start.

This is a massive generalisation. Many students are very involved with the real world, achieving more than I ever will. They volunteer at local schools or work at soup kitchens; or they’re involved in societies, such as the Cambridge Hub, who make it their mission not to switch off.

But if you’re like me, and have been ostriching, do one thing in your Week 8: try ignoring your essay crisis and make that start. Come to Hubnight which is fundraising for Jimmy’s and Cambridge Cyrenians, or to the sleep-out afterwards that’s supporting Wintercomfort. But if that attempt at a sell was too obvious for you, just buy a Big Issue from the guy outside Sainsbury’s. It’s a way to start engaging. And it’s so much better than voting RON. Or making conversation with the next ‘BNOC’ friend I have to walk past.