I spotted the young badly shaven man sitting on the pavement in the West End with a paper cup and a piece of cardboard held against his chest. The hand written message on it said he was homeless and wanted money or work. As I watched, a passer by popped some change in his cup. ‘Ben’ as I shall call him, put his right hand to his chest and bowed his head in what I thought was a rather religious gesture of thanks.
I went up to him and offered £2 if he would talk to me for a few minutes about himself. I said I would put whatever he said on the internet. As I got a pencil and a piece of paper out of my pocket and sat on the pavement beside him, he started to talk about his native country – Latvia.
“Pardon my English, I do not speak so good. I am from Latvia. We were part of the Soviet Union, then in 1991 we got independence. Latvia is very poor, and the government is corrupt.
In England I worked in Tesco warehouse. I was paid £6.21 as an agency worker. This agency they don’t pay my National Insurance, they say to register as self-employed. This is very difficult. I asked my boss for a permanent contract. I wanted to be full time, not part time. He told me to f… off. so I lost my job.
Now I go to the day centre in _ Road.. You know what is day centre? I go to Job Centre but they do not have work for me. I sleep in the park. I am not a criminal but the police tells me to move on if he sees me. I can’t usually stay longer than half an hour in this spot without being moved. I hope to get work or should I say job? Which is the right word?”
I gave Ben the cash and we shook hands as I thanked him for his time and wished him well.