With everything that has been going on I’ve been talking on twitter a lot about homelessness and am often reminded of these stories I heard from three homeless people I spoke to. I’m haunted that no one knows what is happening to them. So I thought I’d share them here.
The Lady Outside Nero’s
A beautiful sunny day in the city centre and I decide to stop at Cafe Nero, for a quick cup of coffee and a sit down in the sunshine.
Problem is, I have the pupster with me and he isn’t allowed in Nero’s. But there’s a homeless lady sitting on the wall outside, we get chatting about the dog, and I ask if she would mind watching him for me while I go in and get a coffee. So I get one for her, too. When I come out, I go and sit at the cafe table to drink my coffee, she stays on the wall.
Suddenly out of nowhere two policemen* appear. They get up in her face, towering over her and being physically threatening. I think wait a minute, what is going on here? So I go over to join the lady. They are being mean to her. I say “you can’t speak to her like that!”. They get threatening to me too. I tell them I am going to report them and I want to take a photograph of them. They laugh and mock me, but I do take a photo. I tell them the homeless lady is my guest, I bought her the coffee, and she can come and sit at the table with me and it’s none of their business. But they refuse to let her do that, and tell her to go away and if they see her again they will “follow her around all day making her life hell”. She goes away.
I sit back down at my table, very shaken by the physical threat. The two policemen come and stand directly behind my chair, again towering over me, with their arms crossed, saying nothing, for absolutely no reason. Eventually a man comes out of the cafe and sits down next to me and asks me if I’m ok. I say I would be ok if those men would go away and stop trying to scare me. They go away.
I go home, report them to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. A few weeks later I get a call. They tell me they asked the policeman about the incident, they say they didn’t do it, and I am lucky I wasn’t arrested because I “have a hostile attitude”. So the policemen lied, the IPCC must surely have known they were lying, did no investigation, did not check the cctv, did not interview any witnesses, just called me back to tell me I’m a liar and threaten me again. I never saw that lady again. That is my story of the first homeless lady.
*In the interests of clarity: the men were not in fact policemen. That is how I experienced it, but they were in fact community support officers. I have heard on twitter that they come under different management than the police. That didn’t change anything about how I felt about the story but I would like to be very truthful about what happened.
The Man With The Burned Hands
At the bus stop, my puppy makes a new friend, a beautifully behaved older bitch of indeterminate type. Her owner is a very dirty homeless looking guy about my age, carrying a huge amount of camping gear. Doubled under the weight of it. And he and his gear are both so dirty they have become all the same colour like stone or earth so they seemed like one living organism. His face and hair is so dirty his eyes seem unusually bright and intense. It gives him a slightly crazy look, like a holy man in the desert.
As the dogs play, I see she has staples in her neck and her owner tells me she was attacked by another dog one night as she slept outside his tent. He says he can tell from the whistles that the attack dogs owner used, that he was using the homeless guys dog as a bait dog to train his fighting dog on. Thank god a dog hospital took her in and stapled up her neck. She was in a mess, you could see a very strong dog had tried to rip chunks out of her neck. And yet she showed no fear of either me or my dog and allowed me to pet her. The man told me she is scared of staffies now, because it was a staffie who attacked her, and now when she sees one she crouches on the floor and shakes. She isn’t on a lead and I can’t believe how well behaved she is, always by his side, never leaves him.
As he reaches down to pet her, I see his hands are covered in little raised red and black circles like measles with ugly painful looking scabs and I say oh no, did he go for you when you tried to separate them? And he said no, he has been burning his hands with cigarettes in his tent at night because he deserves it because she loves him and he let her be hurt. Just tells me that quite matter of factly.
We get on the bus together. The dog still staying by his side no matter what happens, never moves, even when people get on and off. I am glad the bus driver doesn’t stop them getting on the bus because I know technically you aren’t allowed on the bus without a lead. I go home, and wonder why I never at least gave him my address so he could come by if he needs something. I never see the man again though I often hope I will. That is the story of the second homeless man.
The Man Who Couldn’t Go Home
A homeless guy once turned up at our church.
Afterwards he stayed to have coffee and biscuits, which we always did. But I overhear the vicar taking the church warden to one side and telling him to get rid of him, because he is scared he will start “panhandling”. At the time, I don’t know what “panhandling” is, but I can tell it’s going to be horrible, so I go tell the homeless man I’m going out for a cigarette and does he smoke would he like to join me? He says yes so we escape the clutches of the evil minister and church warden out into the car park.
We’re just making small talk about the weather, how nice it is to have a cigarette etc, when suddenly he kind of breaks down and says he thinks I am “his angel”. Feeling awkward, I try to laugh it off and say I don’t think anyone ever called me that before or something like that. He says I don’t know that I am the first person he has spoken to in months and I don’t know what that means.
The words start rushing out of him, and I am kind of pinned to the spot by a strange force, and it’s as if somehow in that moment the entire universe is spinning around this one man. Like all the streets are an Escher staircase and he is at the centre of them. And he tells he had a daughter my age, but she killed herself in his house. Again, just tells me quite matter of factly. He came home and found her. When he left the hospital, he couldn’t go back home. He said he just started walking “and at a certain point, I started drinking”.
I tell him I don’t know what to say. He says, neither does he. I don’t remember now how the conversation ended or how we parted. I never saw that man again. I think perhaps he had an Irish accent, but I’m not very good at accents.
PS I never ever forgave the vicar for that. I left the church and sent him an email telling him exactly why. There was more than one reason. He never replied.