The new look of the outdoor coffee drinker

I’M not quite sure why it bothered me more than other similar incidents that weekend.
EDITOR'S PERSPECTIVE: The new look of the outdoor coffee drinkerEDITOR'S PERSPECTIVE: The new look of the outdoor coffee drinker
EDITOR'S PERSPECTIVE: The new look of the outdoor coffee drinker

Stuck in traffic, on the way to Leeds to watch a gig, I had spotted her wandering between the lanes of traffic. She had a pained luck on her face and was clutching a coffee cup with both hands as if to extract as much heat from it as she could.

It was cold and raining, yet the cup contained no hot liquid, just a few pennies she had managed to persuade drivers in the long unmoving line of traffic to part with.

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I confess to hoping the lights would change before she got to my car – and it makes me wince knowing I had that reaction, brief as it was - but they didn’t and I caught her eye and capitulated, winding down the window and handing her a coin. I drove off feeling bad about the disparity in our situations and the fact that my paltry donation would make little or no difference.

You are told to offer food or a non-alcoholic drink rather than money, but it’s a difficult conundrum.

Later in Leeds I saw perhaps 50 homeless people during the day, most slumped in doorways, keeping out of the rain. I noticed some had drinks, one had a sandwich, another a sausage roll or something similar. They obviously didn’t have anywhere to go though. Surely they wouldn’t be out in this sort of weather if they did? A cup of coffee may warm them up for a while, but not for long.

Some would have been in that situation through drink or drug problems, there may be family issues, but mostly it’s a sign of the times and closing down services and support only serves to push the problem out onto the streets and in your face. Maybe we need to see it though.

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I spotted a bloke, who was standing against the wall of a bar I was heading into. Like the woman earlier, he was also clutching a cup with both hands. Yes, like he was trying to extract as much heat out of it as he could. He wasn’t though, and not because he was hoping I was about to drop some change into his recyclable drinks container. In fact, if I had done it would have seriously annoyed him for he didn’t need my charity – again the word disparity – as the smug look he wore above his snug body-warmer told me he was a discerning coffee drinker who had just splashed out £4 or so on some form of drink ending with -ccino.

The longer the day went on, the more I noticed this and, aside from not lying down in the doorway of a closed down shop the difference seemed minimal, yet was anything but.

I know a coffee isn’t the greatest extravagance – and who am I to talk, I was off for a “proper” drink” – but those walking around gripping a mug of steaming liquid while someone else was freezing to death – and I know, some of them have ‘”brought it on themselves” etc – looked wrong, when actually they shouldn’t have.

There shouldn’t be anyone freezing to death on the streets in 2024. The smug-looking coffee drinker may be only one lost pay day away from drinking in a doorway too.

He probably doesn’t believe that though and maybe that’s why the ones that do drink indoors. To avoid being seen. It’s the guilt that does that.

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