“Welcome to the 185th Post of the Zingcreed blog. In this personal polemic where I think aloud about religion and life, nothing is sacred. I hope you get something from it!” Peter Turner M.A., M.Sc.
‘Don’ was sitting on his thick cardboard ‘bed’ to insulate his bum from the cold autumn pavement. It wasn’t easy to grasp what he was saying because he mumbled, and a busker was playing ‘House of the rising Sun’ to unappreciative passers by a few yards off. So don’t take this account as gospel.
He was 61 and came over from Portugal 15 years ago. He had no begging bowl, and indeed said he would rather starve than beg. He had had a good job as a security team leader at a major London railway station but was laid off when Railtrack went in house to fill such posts.
Things went from worse to worse. He spared me no detail and started sobbing as he narrated the details of his downfall.
His wife of 16 years had “kept me going” and when she died of cancer (“and she didn’t even smoke or drink”) “it really hit me hard”. Don brought up their 2 daughters alone, with money from various low paid jobs. One girl is now at University. At some point he had a mental breakdown and only got the treatment he needed after a suicide attempt. “If my daughter hadn’t come home early from school and found me about to hang myself, I wouldn’t be here now. I will never forgive myself, but now the girls are bigger I hope they will understand.”
He became an alcoholic, drinking excessive amounts occasionally, but not getting violent. All this is background – he was not yet on the streets, and at this moment is off the booze completely. It seems a new woman friend is behind his current tears. They shared a place. he earned £150 per week for a 12 hours per day job in a garage (!) and went for weekly sessions at a mental health clinic. She was on benefits; then she met a guy on Facebook. Next thing she was staying away nights, then she cleared out the joint account and, the flat being in her name, she chucked him out.
So, after all that, it turned out that this poor bloke had only been sleeping rough for 2 weeks. He had not had a good time. The police had not been a problem because he went out of his way to avoid them; but after not sleeping for the first 3 nights his mind started playing tricks on him – he became paranoid and started hallucinating so bad that he went to A. and E.
While in a park in Eltham, South London, he was attacked by a group of 14-15 year old boys, who took away his bag with all his stuff in it “no good to anyone”. So in just the clothes he stood up in he walked all the way into central London. He had heard that storms were forecast and was worried by this.
Three different people then came along. One was a fit looking young man with a scots accent who asked Don if he minded him sitting on the pavement next to him, and was it legal to drink there. Second was a woman notable for having a missing upper incisor who wanted a light for half a damp fag. I asked her if she was homeless too: her answer astonished me “only for the time being until I get those bloody squatters out.”
As I paid Don for his time and wished him all the best, another woman marched up and told him in no uncertain terms to get off the cardboard as it was hers and she was going to sleep there.