Friday, 18 June 2010

5) Diary of a Homeless Man



After handing over the keys to my flat and my bankcard to be locked in the safe I left Mustard Tree with only a sleeping bag and a small food parcel. I started making my way into the city centre, on my way I passed a couple of young kids. Seeing the way I was dressed and that I was carrying a sleeping I had my first reaction….‘scruff!’ they shouted as I walked past. I had been out less than 10 minutes and at that point I knew it was going to be a long week. When I arrived in town I went and sat in Piccadilly gardens it was rush hour and everyone was going home from work. I suddenly became very self-conscious and after a few people walked past me and looked at me like I was a piece of dirt I felt to uncomfortable to stay there so I retreated to the outskirts of the city centre, I could feel old emotions flooding back, I was feeling very defensive, insecure and nervous of other people. I arrived back in Piccadilly later that night and spent some time sat in the gardens pondering the week ahead, I had been out for just 6 hours but it felt like I’d been out so much longer than that, it was getting cold and the only food I had had was a tin of sardines which I had to eat cold with my fingers. I was starting to think about where I would sleep that night when a guy approached me, he was smartly dressed in his forties maybe and he seemed very interested in me. I knew almost immediately what he was after but I felt compelled to see how he would go about it so even though it sickened me I engaged in conversation with him. He asked me if I was homeless and when I told him I was his eyes almost lit up. He asked where I had spent the previous night and I told him I had slept near the gardens (Piccadilly), he then asked what I was doing for food. I told him I had been getting by o.k. and he then mentioned about how cold it was getting and when I agreed with him he then asked me if I would like to go and stay at his place in Longsight. ‘No thanks’ I replied. ‘Why not?’ He said. ‘‘Because I’m fine where I am and I don’t want to’ I told him. It was then he stepped his game up and started preying on my vulnerabilities as a young homeless person. ‘Why would you want to stay out here cold and hungry with nowhere to sleep when you can come to mine and get a hot meal and have a warm bed to sleep in?’ I was getting annoyed now and sternly said ‘I told you I’m fine’ He then outright offered me the chance to go and live with him and told me he would really like to have sex with me. I almost blew my top. I had heard enough and told him he had better leave me alone for his own sake. He casually said o.k. and that he would see me around before walking off. I was rattled and felt quite sick and angry. It was such a sinister experience and the worst thing was I could see why so many young homeless men end up being exploited into becoming sex workers…. After that I got on the move looking for somewhere to bed down for the night but everywhere I went seemed to be busy even though it was like 1 am. Aware of the stories I had heard about homeless guys being beaten up and even urinated on by revellers in town I looked for somewhere away from the pubs and clubs and where there was less people traffic. I eventually settled on St. Annes Square and found a vacant doorway just in the nick of time as it had started to rain. After getting in my sleeping bag I felt so vulnerable and scared. Every time I tried to close my eyes I heard someone shout or heard glass being smashed. I’m not sure what time I drifted off but when I woke there was 2 guys stood over me, I quickly jumped up and grabbed my bag. It turned out to be a couple of other homeless guys who thought they might know me, after they realised that they didn’t they apologised and moved on but I was restless after that and the street sweepers were out now. I had about 2 ½ hours sleep, it was 5:30 and I was back on the move.


I made my way to Piccadilly gardens again, it was a cold, damp morning and I was extremely tired. I had 3 ½ hours before the Booth Centre opened where I could get a cup of coffee but the thing I was quickly realising was that time just seemed to stand still. I walked around town to kill some time working my way through the alleyways and back streets I saw other guys still asleep in doorways and some were up and about like myself. The Booth centre is based at Manchester Cathedral and when I arrived at 9 ‘o’ clock there was already a group of guys helping themselves to tea, coffee and soup in the ‘‘wet’’ garden, which is a safe place where drinkers can go without having to worry about being moved on. Booth centre also run various activities and offer help, support and a friendly face to the homeless amongst others. It really is a fantastic little service. I was able to have a few cups of coffee and they were much welcomed after a difficult first night. I recognised a few of the guys there as they were also clients of Mustard Tree and I got speaking to one man in particular. Julius who recognised me from times he had been in Mustard Tree. He is from Slovakia and has been in the U.K. for 4 years. He was desperately trying to get enough money together for a bottle of cider, I had 34 pence and as that wasn’t enough to even get myself a cup of tea I gave it to him and he invited me along. We made our way to tescos and he went in to get his drink but he came out empty handed and quite distressed, he was 6 pence short and the lady would not let him off. He had earlier told me that he needed a drink first thing in the morning to stop his shakes and he was shaking quite badly, fortunately he was able to beg the money he needed off a lady. She gave him 10 pence and he said thank you very much kind lady and gave her the 4 pence difference back! After he got his bottle he grabbed 2 Metros off a vendor and we went to a quiet place he knew just by Shudehill Street where he could have his drink in peace, the first went down well but after the second drink he threw up…. A lot! He kindly offered me a drink, which I declined and we started chatting again. He was telling me one of the main reasons he came to this country was because he had serious heart problems and had had a few heart attacks but he could get free medication here. He told me he couldn’t get benefits because he had lost his I.D. and he survived by selling the big issue and begging, he was also very grateful for the services that helped him get by, singling out Mustard Tree, Booth Centre and Cornerstones as his ‘top 3’ I wondered how he could be given citizenship here yet not be given accommodation? I had noticed a lot of the guys at booth centre were not U.K. citizens. Are we welcoming people from overseas onto our streets? That’s what it seemed to me but not to him, he told me he loved Manchester and gushed about what a beautiful city it was and the people in it, but he told me he longed to get home to Slovakia to see his children for Christmas. I hope he makes it. I spent the whole morning with Julius talking everything from football to families and life in general. I could easily have spent the whole day with him. I left him as I had to get to Longsight to check out the Roby drop in centre and he was en route to Mustard Tree for some fresh clothing. He did invite me round to the squat that he was staying in but I knew it was unlikely I would make it so I thanked him for his time and he thanked me for mine, we shook hands and went our separate ways. I have not seen him since and hope he is well, he was such a genuine and sincere person and being able to spend time with him really gave me a boost for the day. After leaving Julius I started making my way to The Roby in Longsight as I had heard they have a drop in on Tuesdays. It was a long walk and by the time I arrived I was shattered but worse still I had arrived late and they had stopped serving food, I was offered some pizza but I really wasn’t that hungry anyway, my appetite had deserted me so far. One of our soup run leaders Tony was there however and he bought me a cup of coffee (thanks Tony!) and I chatted with him. Again it was good just to see a friendly face and the staff there were very nice. After I left there I started making my way back in to town again the walk was awfully long and my legs and feet were really starting to hurt.

I arrived back in town and made my way to Exchange Square so I could watch a bit of T.V. the weather was mild but I was starting to feel unwell, I had a sore throat and a terrible cough and was feeling generally rubbish. After another long day I made my way to Piccadilly I was sat in the gardens when it started to rain. Knowing I couldn’t afford to get wet I went and stood under the shelter between the bars that line the gardens. Maybe I wasn’t the type of person they wanted around there because I was then approached by a police officer who told me to move on. ‘I will when it’s stopped raining, I really don’t want to get wet as I’m sleeping out tonight’ I said to him but his reply shocked me. ‘That’s not my problem’…. Well where do you expect me to go? I asked him. His reply to this question really made me so angry yet totally deflated me…He simply said I should go anywhere I couldn’t be seen! I could not believe it. I was stunned. I never said anything back, I knew he meant it so I left. I got soaked. I fell asleep again in St. Annes Square by the church. I was woken at about 5:30 again by the street cleaners but I was in pain.


With my feet swollen and my legs ceased up due to the cold and the wet, I slowly made my way towards the centre of town. I was limping badly on both legs and every step I took was agony and almost brought tears to my eyes, on top of that I was feeling really ill my throat was raw and my chest was hurting because I was coughing so badly. I was furious about the night before, I had heard stories about homeless guys being moved on by the police from the more ‘desirable’ parts of the city but to experience it myself was such a demoralising feeling and I just could not believe how they went about it. Ignorant, insensitive and downright cruel is how I would describe it. I felt like an irrelevant piece of dirt that was being swept under the rug. I couldn’t walk much so I sat around until the Booth centre opened, I had a few hot drinks and a chat with Mike one of the staff, he was a friendly guy and talking to him about the guys on the street and the difficulties they face encouraged me to carry on. I got a new pair of socks and left. My next stop was Mustard Tree for some clean clothes and it was so good to see the ‘family’. I really wanted to give up and go home at this point but I was determined to see it through. Just hearing the words of support from the staff and volunteers was a massive boost and I knew I was doing the right thing by carrying on. As I couldn’t walk to well I didn’t do much after leaving Mustard Tree, I felt a little better in some fresh clothes but decided to rest my legs knowing I had a long way to go through the week. I was sat in Exchange Square watching t.v. when a lady approached me. ‘Here you go’ she said handing me £5! I just looked at her. She smiled and told me to go and get something to eat and drink. I was shocked. ‘Thanks’ I said and just watched as she walked off. I was touched. It was the first bit of kindness I had received from the general public and it felt a lot better than the dirty looks and passing comments I had received. I spent the night back in St. Annes Square, I felt so tired and knew I wouldn’t get much sleep due to the street cleaners but my legs were to sore to look for somewhere else and I knew in terms of people passing through it was relatively quiet.


After being woken up yet again by the blasted street cleaners I made my way back into the centre of town. Thankfully my legs were feeling much better, although my sore throat and cough were getting quite bad. I spent the morning sat in Piccadilly gardens doing the only thing I could… Sit there. I was starting to understand why so many guys on the street turn to drink and drugs, I certainly felt like I could have benefited from something to help me pass the time. Sometimes I could be sat there for what I thought was 2 hours only to look to look at the time to see just 5 minutes had passed by. My next port of call was Cornerstones drop in centre and after a gruelling walk to Moss side I finally arrived and was quite looking forward to it as I had heard good things from Mustard Trees clients and volunteers. When I went in the place was buzzing, it was lively and there were a lot of people there. I was greeted by a lady named Ann, she was very warm and welcoming. After getting a free cup of coffee I went and sat in the t.v. room and watched murder she wrote! It felt good to be able to sit down in front of the telly and chill out. Things felt normal for a little while. I wandered around watching people laugh and joke, playing pool and eating food. People seemed to have a sense of belonging here and lets face it we all need to belong somewhere don’t we? I then got speaking to Alice, another member of staff. I asked her how many of the guys that turn up here was homeless rough sleepers. She wasn’t sure but she said the majority of them probably were, and there was around 50-60 people there. She also said there was a massive need for more night shelters around Manchester as the guys had nowhere to go after the day centres had closed and I agreed. But with council figures on homeless people in Manchester standing at around just 7 why would they see a need to open any night shelters? In fact I had heard they were closing them down. The best was yet to come at Cornerstones. ‘Would you like a shower?’ I was asked. Would I??!! I couldn’t get in there fast enough! I grabbed some clean clothes and was given a clean towel and some shower gel, it had been 4 days since I last washed properly and I was getting quite smelly. I left Cornerstones feeling refreshed and reassured that the guys on the street did have places to go where they were welcomed, accepted, fed and clothed. I myself was becoming more grateful by the day for the charities and organisations that help these people. But what Alice had said about night shelters had struck a cord in me in terms of homeless people having nothing during the evenings and nights. That night I walked around town… It was about 1:30 a.m. and I wanted to see how many guys I could see bedding down, I walked from the top end of Piccadilly to the bottom of Market Street cutting up through the back streets and was able to count around 20 guys gearing up for a night on the concrete. If I counted 20 rough sleepers in that short area how many would there be in the whole of the city centre? And how many would there be in the whole of Greater Manchester? Potentially hundreds I imagined to myself.

I went and sat by the canal on Dale Street. By this point I was a sleep deprived mess, I had only had about 9-10 hours of disturbed, light sleeping and I really didn’t want to spend another night in St. Anne’s Square…As I looked up across the canal I saw some semi-built apartments and I noticed a hole in the fence surrounding it. Hmm…I thought. Worth checking out. I crossed the canal and got through the hole in the fence, climbed up the scaffolding up to the third floor and jumped over the balcony. Perfect! I was really pleased with myself and quite excited at the prospect of having a good sleep. I had 6 hours and boy did I need it.


I woke up and quickly made my way down the scaffolding feeling tired and my body aching. I had also been struggling with illness all week and was not looking forward to the weekend, as I knew it was going to be a long one. I grabbed a metro and went and sat in Piccadilly gardens. I bumped in to Paul my Manager at Mustard Tree who bought me a gratefully received cup of coffee and a croissant. After he left I bumped into Brian, one of our clients at Mustard Tree. I had already spoken lots with Brian previously and he is one of the most gentle, honest guys you are ever likely to meet. He is very open about the fact he is an alcoholic. In fact I think homeless people are some of the most honest people in society today. They know they have problems and they don’t try to pretend that they haven’t. The difficulty is that in terms of them sorting their problems out, it seems to be a little more out of your own hands when your street homeless. As I was speaking to Brian another guy named Gary came up. Again I had seen him at Mustard Tree and he recognised me as ‘that guy who give us a food parcel’ he asked why I was on the street and I told him about why I was doing what I was doing. ‘Bleak isn’t it’ he said. He told me he had actually just got off the street and was staying at a hostel in Gorton but he had just been served a notice to say they were considering evicting him because of some trouble that happened. So me, Brian and Gary sat in Piccadilly Gardens chatting away. Gary had a bag full of beers and was only too happy to offer me one. As tempting as it was at this point I said no so him and Brian sat there and drank them. Brian has been on the street 15 years and is a heavy drinker but he is still adamant he will one day get his own place and get off the drink, but old habits die hard, he has attempted detox before and it hasn’t quite worked and I wonder why it hasn’t happened yet after all this time? Maybe he didn’t want it enough? But his situation is becoming desperate and even he accepts if he doesn’t stop drinking soon it will probably kill him. We sat there chatting away for hours and more guys were coming up and joining us. It was just like say… me and my friends going down the pub for a drink. This was their social circle. Meeting up having a laugh, talking about what they had been up to and discussing the ways of the world, only it was 9:00am and we were sat in Piccadilly Gardens!! After I left them I decided to go back to Cornerstones for another shower knowing it was weekend and most places are closed. After I left Cornerstones I hung around town waiting for the soup kitchen later that evening. After what seemed like an eternity of sitting around doing nothing I made my way to Hoyle Street and waited for the guys to arrive. When they arrived with the food I immediately helped myself to a hot jacket potato with cheese and a hot drink. I was chatting with some of the volunteers when I noticed a group of young kids at the bottom of the street. They were acting quite mischievous and sure enough one of them launched a rocket over towards us. Luckily it didn’t reach. We were waiting for the next one to come but it seemed they had run out. One of the lads got on his phone and amazingly a van pulled up and the kids surrounded it. All of a sudden they started launching more fireworks at us. It was quite distressing I think for some of the guys and quite sickening that supposedly ‘grown’ men could act in such a way that they would load kids up with fireworks so they could fire them at other people. It all seemed very organised and small minded, . I could expect it maybe from the kids but the fact that adults were involved was just shocking. I returned to my sleeping spot after the soup kitchen feeling quite depressed. It was Friday night and I knew it was going to be a long weekend. I just wanted it to pass quickly as my mind was guiltily on Monday when I was due to go home.

No comments:

Post a Comment