Politely homeless

One of the things that’s strikingly different between Melbourne and Edinburgh are those who are homeless/marginalised.

It’s not that Edinburgh doesn’t have any homeless people – there are plenty around.

What stands out about the homeless here is how polite and reserved they are.

In Melbourne the site of somebody “coalbiting” – approaching people directly to ask for money, sometimes aggressively – is pretty much par for the course. For many people this can be quite a confronting experience, while for many homeless people it’s an accepted part of what it means to survive on the street.

But despite the obvious reality of homelessness and poverty here in Edinburgh, there’s not the same level of direct approach from people in need, and I’m trying to figure out why.

On Edinburgh’s streets, people who are homeless or marginalised tend to take up positions where numbers of people will pass by, be it main streets, thoroughfares or outside busy shops – but they do so in a quiet, passively pleading way rather than proactively pushing people for money.

They tend to sit quietly on the cold concrete with a cup or container, barely speaking but their need obvious, and wait for coins to drop in. The passivity is all the more surprising considering the fact that it’s rapidly becoming painfully cold and their need for shelter, food and clothing is so urgent.

It almost seems like the culture of homelessness has noticeable differences here. I’m yet to work out if it’s possibly a result of council bylaws that may impose strict repercussions on proactive begging, or if it’s just a reflection of the general British demeanour, which tends to be much more reserved than us loud, outgoing Aussies.

But simultaneously people seem to respond to the obvious need, with coins dropping into various receptacles with regularity.

It’s an intriguing context and if anyone has a deeper insight into what’s going on and why it’s different to Melbourne I’d be interested to hear it.

On the familiar side, it’s nice to see the Big Issue everywhere, with plenty of vendors all around Edinburgh.

For the Big Issue Australia, click here. For the Scottish version, click here.


2 responses to “Politely homeless

  1. is it coalbiting or cold biting? I always thought it was the latter. as in, biting up when people are ‘cold’ (or unprepared), as opposed to working someone first. or maybe I’m overthinking it and it’s actually coalbiting, in which case I have no idea where that might have come from.

  2. marx kernow

    some of the most full on begging ive ever experienced was in paris….all be it under the guise of busking/street art….more confrontational than anything ive had in melbourne….but then much more creative and interesting also….including puppet shows on public transport…..you wouldnt last five minutes on connex trying to spruik for cash in melb!

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