Only five weeks in and I’ll admit that I have thought ‘why oh why am I doing this’? As I’m going along this journey it’s easy to forget the real reasons for placing myself in these situations. Being mindful of not wanting to repeat what’s on my intro page, one of the main reasons was to force myself to do something that little bit different and if I can positively touch the of lives of others, even if only in a very small way when surely it’s a win-win right?
Well this weeks act of kindness served to remind me exactly of ‘the why’. Whilst out and about in Halesowen, over recent months I noticed what I presumed to be a homeless guy sitting outside a charity shop. He wasn’t making a big fuss, not asking for money and didn’t even have some form of a begging hat but clearly he would welcome some kind of charity, however I don’t think even he expected the offer I was proposing.
“You must be feeling cold, would you like me to buy you something to eat and drink?”
“I’ve just eaten but would like a coffee if thats ok?” (For reference Zion Christian centre/church brings him a subway sandwich most days he is there).
Bearing in mind my mission is to go that step further then I normally would and in an attempt to find out the story behind the person, I said
“What if I took you out of the cold and to a coffee shop and also give you a little something so you can feed yourself later?”
Although not profound this clearly was not an offer he normally gets as he looked around puzzled and guess slightly apprehensive and said “are you with anyone?” after some re-assurance but still a little unsure he agreed.
He had no preference to as to where to go so I took him to ‘Coffee Calling’ (thanks Marc). Clarifying that he was ok with me asking questions I proceeded to ask about his situation.
Dave is 41, “no way are you 41 you look a lot younger” he said lots of people say the same. “Clearly I need to sleep rough” I said.
This is a story about someone who has found himself very much on a slippery slope. This, to my knowledge, has nothing to do with drink or drugs. There certainly was no smell of drink on him and no visible signs of drug abuse. Actually I can 99.9% sure about the drink as he had the choice to go to Wetherspoons.
He once had a home, a partner and has 2 children now aged 17 & 20 and held down a manufacturing job from which he was made redundant a while ago. Around the same time he and his partner split.
“Who left who” I said.
“She left me, we had been together for sometime so guess she needed a change?”
“Was anyone else involved?”
“Well, she did find someone VERY soon after we split so I think so but not 100%”
Dave’s father died 20 years ago and his mother died 3 years ago, his mom’s death hit him pretty hard and admitted he has only recently been able to freely talk about it. He lived in a rental property with his mom until she died of a stroke in the house. His mom’s death eventually led to him being evicted. He has one sister but admitted her husband doesn’t want Dave around.
“Where do you come from” I said,
“Why do you choose Halesowen?”
“Because I know people in Oldbury and I’m to embarrassed to beg around there. I did try Birmingham centre but the beggars are tribal and was threatened with a knife, that was my one and only time there. I do also go to Stourbridge though but feel more comfortable here.”
Because there can be some big bucks to be made in prime locations I am aware that gangs can have a well run operation in motion. Just listening to 5 live last week, in London one guy was earning between £200-£500 per DAY before going back to his nice comfy flat. This guy said, with the right spot it’s so good. Although he feels guilty about it, he still goes back even though he now has a job).
“Where do you sleep?”
“About once a week, when I have enough money I go to a bedsit, the one by the Travel Lodge in Halesowen, that way I can have a good shower and night sleep. It costs £20 per night room only” The rest of the time I sleep rough, mainly in the underpass in Stourbridge”
“Have you experienced any trouble there?”
“Only once when a group of drunken lads were taking the mick and took some of my possessions, in fact I quite often have my possessions robed when I’m sleeping.”
“Do you see your kids at all?”
“No, not since I’ve been sleeping rough so that’s 2 years now. I try to avoid where they might be, I don’t want them to see me like this”
“Can you not stay in a hostel etc.?”
“Yeah, I was offered one in Birmingham but heard that you get robbed and the people are not that nice so I don’t bother”
“As you have no fixed abode I presume you don’t get any benefits?”
“Correct, no address so no benefits, I am on the homeless list with the council so hopefully something will come of that but know it’s a massive list”
Dave does have access to a shower facility when he needs it but only has the one set of clothes so not ideal putting on dirty clothes after a shower. He also said a lady from the council came to see him last week and said she would try to help, he hasn’t heard anything yet but if nothing else that just gives a little hope.
I asked him what size clothes he wears, ‘small/medium’ so smaller then me but guess he won’t be a ‘Diva’ about what I bring. The good news for him is his shoe size is the same as mine. Before I left I gave him £20 for which he was both surprised and extremely grateful. I wouldn’t normally give money to beggars just in case it supported their ‘habit’ or even just the possibility of them using it to top-up their income before they go home to their nice flat. However, having meet him I felt quite comfortable about his genuineness (famous last words) and guessed he wouldn’t be operating in Halesowen earning £20 on a good day if he was a shrewd operator. Never-the-less, me being a sceptical person, I did look at his hands as this can be a giveaway and he did have, lets say, well weathered hands!
Having said the above, I am mindful I don’t know the guy but will monitor his situation closely. At very least, if satisfied with his honesty, I will offer to give him my office address to use as a point of contact so he can claim benefits. Any letters etc I get I can just pass onto him.
Update 2 days on, I met him to hand over some items I got for him. He was having at cup of tea at St John’s church in Halesowen; they offer tea & coffee on a daily basis. 80p gets you tea & a biscuit; however, they know Dave and give him tea for free. He told me he had been moved on from is normal spot and threatened to be arrested, apparently he has never been asked to move before. The items I gave him was a pair of jeans, a long sleeve t-shirt, a jumper and pair of shoes. As his backpack is tatty I also gave the clothes over in a backpack that is in far better condition, which of course was received with gratitude.
As Dave wasn’t earning that day, his thoughts were to go to Stourbridge but knows there are a few people operating there today, alternatively, as he had already bought an ‘all day’ bus ticket for £3 he could just ride the bus all day to stay warm as he often does. I said I’d check up on him when I get back from my holiday, gave him some change and we said our goodbyes.