It’s a bit longer than normal.

Got to say it’s been an eventful week, so if you are sitting comfortably I shall begin. I’ve done a few volunteer shifts with the night shelter and will save that for another blog. Work offers are coming in and I’m pretty sure that I will accept one of them but have to sort my sleep and mind wobble out before I go full time, but this blog isn’t solely about me, my ego will have to take a back seat.

Over the past few weeks I’ve had regular conversations with a guy that is on the streets. Although he is 33 he actually looks like he is in his early 20’s, lucky sod. Sadly that’s where the luck finishes for him. He sleeps rough, has a heroin addiction and as a result has to “sit down” it’s not seen as begging as such because you don’t ask for money. Anyone walking by that drops cash does so completely at their own will. A simple thing like saying “do you have any change please?” is actually classed as aggressive begging no matter how politely you do it.

He’s been unable to receive his universal credit because he doesn’t have a bank account, so me, being me I say let’s get you sorted with one. I hit the internet in search of an account for people with no fixed address, didn’t get to far so I contact Lloyds bank through twitter and explain the situation. They reply very positively saying all is possible with limited I.D. and a care of address, so off we go together to the branch only to be told that the I.D. he has isn’t enough. He needs letters, photo I.D. and they must have his care of address on, none of which he has. Now remember this is a heroin addict that is now getting agitated, not violent just jittery and stressed. I contact through twitter again to be told that this is not the case, back and forth the conversations go with no success. We try a different bank and long story short again no joy.

It turns out that this guy has been bullied on the streets and people that claimed to be his friends have either orchestrated or robbed him themselves a few time. So taking a risk I say to him, rather than use one of these guys he can put his benefits into my account and we’ll get a witness to see me handing it over to him. We deal with that at the benefit office and the money is due into my account the same day that the Salvation Army have arranged a residential rehab place for him.

The night before this is due to happen guys from the street realise he isn’t going to use their account and things get slightly intimidating for him. So in my infinite wisdom I allow him to sleep on my floor rather than take the risk of him doing a runner and the hard work of finding him a suitable rehab going to waste.  Part way through the day he starts getting nervous about his money actually going into my account on the Friday , the same day he is off to rehab. I realise this isn’t the case he’s more worried about getting his morning fix the next day as he hasn’t “Sat down” so doesn’t have the money to buy any.

He wasn’t due at rehab till 3 in the afternoon and I knew he wouldn’t, well more couldn’t face the full day without. I give him £20, the last money I have and simply say “That will sort you in the morning”. Immediately he settled and we had a good talk, something to eat and quite a decent afternoon/evening.

I wouldn’t recommend that you pop into town today and get yourself a rough sleeper/heroin addict to bring home but I know this guy, and fortunately I have no family silver to be nicked.

Next morning I check my account and fortunately his money is there, he returns my £20 and we wander into town for the deed to be done. He buys, wanders off, does what needs to be done then returns. We get out of town and back to my place as quick as possible to wait for my mate to pick us up later in the day to take him to rehab.

Halfway through the day he is getting a bit edgy again and he asks if he can do his last hit in my bathroom. No point refusing so I say yes providing once done all his drug gear get’s put in a bag for me to get rid of, he agreed and after said job was completed we chilled until our mate turned up and off we went to the rehab.

Yesterday at 3.30 he was checked in, we can’t have any contact with him for 3 weeks and no visiting for 3 months. The programme is designed for him to be resident for up to 18 months with vocational training as well as the rehabilitation.

I certainly hope that he sees it through, I know he has a long way to go and I can’t imagine how hard it will be. I hope he comes out the other side clean and remains so for the rest of his days. No one deserves life as a addict where you have to sit in busy streets in all weathers being verbally and at times physically abused, all self respect thrown in the gutter just to survive.

I have to say as we left him and returned home that I felt good about it, as a team effort we did something that could change the rest of his life.

Thanks for reading

Stay safe

Phil

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s all in the head

Well as you all know I’m now in a property, little one bedroom flat with a great view of the Cathedral and valley to the South of the city.

You’d think once you get a place everything would start going back to “normal”, If only. First couple of nights were a bit strange, I put that down to just being used to the open air and life on the streets. As the days have gone on it really hasn’t improved, claustrophobia has kicked in and my sleep pattern is disturbed to say the least. I’m sure to an extent that some of it is down to solitude, Mr S isn’t always the worlds greatest conversationalist but each night and morning there was something.

I sleep an average of two hours at a time, rarely do I manage more than that. At times I have no choice but to open windows or go and stand outside for a while. The slightest noise wakes me, but so does the silence. Naturally this sleep deprivation is having an affect on everything I do, I struggle to concentrate on very simple tasks at times.

This for me has been a bit of a minefield, I’ve never experienced the benefit system and I’m slowly learning my way around it. For me it isn’t the worlds toughest problem because I can ask advice from a few people on social media plus I know some professionals in the homeless industry, social workers, outreach workers, housing solutions etc. and I have to say they have been a valuable source of information.

Not everyone communicates like I do, some people struggle. I have pride and asking for help has never been easy, accepting help when offered is also an issue. I know how pathetic this sounds but as a bloke in his mid 50’s I grew up in a time when it was “Man up and get on with it” You sort out your own problems. Having no choice in the matter has certainly changed me, hopefully for the better.

All this said, getting of the streets has it’s advantages to, not just the obvious like a locked door and heat and electricity. Your mentality changes, walking around the city I feel different, a certain confidence about myself. It’s sort of like you are part of society again. I dress in the same way, same jacket, boots, jeans and jumper but you don’t look at people and think that you are being judged. Most people out there are decent and probably don’t judge or never knew I was living on the streets any way, but that doesn’t mean your mind believes that at the time.

Having a place to call home has a huge impact on your self worth. The majority of people reading this gladly won’t have experienced it but without a home you feel like you are at the bottom of the ladder, in fact you don’t think you are even on the ladder. You exist in a different life, looking at people everyday that are above you. In your mind to them you are nothing.

Fortunately for me I always had the escape of social media, on there I found decent people to communicate with, lots of compassionate folk with good hearts and more importantly people in my situation. Being able to communicate with those going through my experience worldwide helps massively, you have a bond. In one form or another we face the same daily trials, wake up, walk the streets, look for your next meal, keep warm, keep clean and find a safe place to sleep at night. It’s a constant circle, one I hope that everyone I know can escape from soon.

Thanks for reading

Stay safe,

Phil

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Financials aside other

Maybe I’m just as mad as a box of frogs!!

I didn’t realise but I have actually spent almost 10 months sleeping rough in this City, I’d kind of lost all track of time. Each day, week and month had melted into the next. I thought that it had very little affect on me but when I received the keys to my place and spent that first night I hardly slept.

Silence was the strangest thing, I’ve had traffic noise constantly while rough sleeping, fresh air and at night your mind is constantly thinking about what could happen. Also being isolated physically is strange, yes it’s secure so realistically that should relax you and help with sleep. However almost every night over recent months I’ve had Mr S a few feet from me, even though he isn’t the greatest conversationalist we do have a few brief chats before the sleeping bags went over our heads in search of slumber.

Every time I leave my place I instinctively pick up my backpack, I went out for a coffee yesterday and didn’t realise that I had my bag with me till I had to put it down to get my wallet out. I had no reason to take it with me and what is even more strange is the fact it was almost empty, it contained a pair of gloves my phone charger and my wallet. I seem to pick my bag up with the same kind of force that was needed when just about everything I owned was in it, now I realise the kind of weight I’ve been carrying all these months.

Yesterday as I left town and walked back I started thinking about things I needed to do, then realised I was actually thinking of a life I had before all this began. Most of the things I was thinking of doing couldn’t be done because I have nothing in the place. As someone that I was chatting with online pointed out the chances are it was just a mini type flash back. It’s all slightly disorientating.

I know that I’ve had mental health issues otherwise I would never have ended up on the streets, but they have never hit home as much as this past 48 hours. As I am building back up and getting my life back together I’m realising how far off track I’d gone from “normal” life.

In comparison with Mr S my time on the streets has been very brief. He has had almost twenty years, all the time sleeping rough. From cement to fields, from benches to beaches he has slept on them all. We had the opportunity to get a nice, modern new build 2 bedroom place in a nice apartment block, but at the last minute after all was sorted he just walked away. At the time I wasn’t very happy because I had worked hard to get us it, hounding the housing company and other organisations, trying to put pressure on them to get this old man off the streets.

When I finally had it all sorted and Mr S chose to just walk away after telling me for weeks that he’d had enough I couldn’t understand it. Now that I have experienced my time coming off the streets I can’t imagine how difficult it would be for him.

Falling away from “normal life” was very easy for me and I guess for everyone on the streets, no matter what the cause. Getting back into it can be daunting, other than a roof over your head, a locked door and heat, not a lot changes. Your financial situation is exactly the same, the money you struggled with to last the month on a bench in a bus stop is exactly the same amount except now you have bills to pay. Okay, food will be cheaper as it not all takeaways and prepacked, and you’re not paying a ridiculous price for an essential hot drink but the financial battle still continues.

Well folks, I will endeavour to get Mr S to come and at least crash with me through the severe weather. We will be having our holy trinity together as often as possible (in the name of the coffee, the cigarette and the bacon sandwich) and I will meet with him most evenings to have a brew.

Thanks for reading, Stay safe.

Phil

I am so humbled, but there’s no place like home

Well there it is, I am finally off the streets, Yesterday afternoon I went to what I thought was just a viewing of a flat but received the keys then and there!! Sadly the boiler had a fault so no central heating on my first night but the fire is electric so at least I had heat.

Heat wasn’t the biggest thing that hit home with me it was the fact that I could lock a door. No worries of having my bag nicked or being attacked. No one turning up ten minutes after I’d fallen asleep with gifts of food or blankets (that I have been grateful for but sleep doesn’t come easy on the streets). No cars wizzing by all night, no Mr S snoring like mad (more about this later), nothing but safety and security.

The view from my living room looks over open country side to the bus stop way off in the distance that I slept in the night before with Mr S. I had to spend the night on floorboards with a newspaper for a mattress but as you all know after the past 9 months or more it was relative luxury. Today I shall collect my camp bed, sleeping bags, tent and other few belongings and take them home, yep home!!

Yesterday afternoon the housing company offered Mr S and myself a two bedroomed place, but just as we were about to go and sign for it Mr S simply walked away. I caught up with him and all I could get out of him was “it’s not for me”. He hasn’t seen the property but just flatly refused to go to the viewing. This put me in a bit of a situation with the housing company because it’s taking me weeks to get that far. Fortunately they had this one bedroom place and the staff of the housing association were great and organised a viewing for me within a couple of hours. I only expected to be looking at the place yesterday but they had all the contracts ready so it was a case of sign here and there’s your keys. Couldn’t have been more simple.

This morning I walked back to Chateaux Bus Shelter and had a coffee with Mr S, told him about my place and said if you want to sleep there you are more than welcome. He has said he will come if the weather takes a turn for the worse but for now he’s okay.

As with most days he told me that he’ll be moving on soon, maybe further South but he has been saying this all the time I’ve known him. He seemed distant this morning, even more than usual. I do have a bit of guilt because I got so far with him, I’ve had more communication out of him than anyone I know. Not going to say I failed in what I wanted, that is to get him off the streets but i do feel a little knocked back by it. I hope he will come and sleep at my place when the weather gets worse but I have no idea if he will. I’m not going to give up trying and will do everything I can to see him each day, eventually he may just come for a coffee then I could be stuck with him for life. He was very good to me when I needed help the most and whatever I can do to repay that debt I will.

Now the next problem, my Twitter has been Homeless Up North since it started in November last year. What do I call myself now? ExHomeless Up North? Home Up North? even thought about Compassion Up North but it raises a big problem. As I want to carry on helping rough sleepers and homeless maybe one day I will have others help me to do so, then we will be a team (the easily offended should look away now). No one wants to wear corporate clothing with an acronym for Compassion Up North Team!! even if a few of my street friends already call me that 🙂 So I think for now with your full permission I shall remain Homeless Up North.

All that remains is for me to thank you all for the support, assistance, compassion and good wishes with my new place but most of all for being friends through what has been at times, a bit testing. I’m determined to keep positive and help those that need it any way I can. The tweets shall continue to flow and awareness will be a priority.

Thanks for reading, Stay Safe

Phil

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve had more evictions than big brother

Well as many of you know last night I returned to my little tent in the woods to find a note taped to my tent “Polite notice, Your tent is on private land, please remove you tent and belongings.” I was in a small wood off a public footpath. With the exception of the the tent you wouldn’t know I was there, I never leave any mess, I arrive after dark and leave before light. However it is private land and I have to respect that.

This leads to another problem for Rough sleepers, if you are willing to move from open rough sleeping to being in a tent then finding a safe place where you can legally pitch it is difficult. By law you are not allowed to pitch a tent on common or council ground. If you do then the local authorities have the right to remove and destroy it, that includes any possessions you may have in it.

Unless you can find someone that owns land and gives you permission to use it, you risk leaving a pitched tent and never guarantee it will be there when you get back on a night. Leaving a tent anywhere is risky as they often stand out. If it isn’t the authorities that move it then it can easily be trashed or any items you have inside can be stolen.

The uncertainty as you make your way back to it adds stress, if it’s gone then you have no protection from the elements or even a sleeping bag to stay warm with through the night. As it’s after dark when you head to your tent and if it has been taken or damaged there is no support network able to supply you with another. This means you either try sleeping without a bag or you walk the streets all night. This usually raises other problems like being noticed by the police and needless to say at some point through the night they will question you, require I.D. and if possible search your bag. I personally don’t have an issue with this but its just more added stress to the night.

All this uncertainty damages your mental and physical health, stress levels rise each evening as you return. Inside a tent you are unsure as to what will happen outside, Wind and traffic noise will send your mind racing and of course if you hear voices you are always expecting something to happen. You think you are better off in a tent, although it’s good to keep out the bad weather it can be even more daunting than sleeping rough on the streets.

Thanks for reading, Stay safe.

Phil

 

 

 

A Trip to the Toon

Well this morning being a Sunday I ventured into Newcastle so I may use the library. Having got there a couple of hours before it opened I had a good chance to walk around.

All the usual familiar sites of a city these days, rough sleepers on benches and in doorways, lots walking with blankets or sleeping bags draped over their shoulders, many of them looking for prime spots for begging. I saw a young lad in his twenties sat on the wet pavement outside the train station and offered him a cigarette. He asks if I have any change and I tell him I’m also homeless. We start to chat about support both in Durham and Newcastle. We have the same concerns of potential dangers and how he gets a lot more threats and insults due to his appearance plus the fact he begs.

After a while I ask him how long he’s been using as I point out the track marks I can see. He’s honest about it and says on and off for about a year. We discuss about him getting clean and I realise it’s the same old story, he has tried but the people he mixes with and the shelters he has used are full of users and drinkers so avoiding it is impossible. I ask him how he ended up on the streets and he tells me how he was in various care homes then when he was around 16 he ran away and stayed with friends for a while and eventually ended up on the streets. One thing led to another, weed and drink was his first escape then speed and eventually heroin.

We have a good chat about my social media and my plans for the future. He would like to be a long distance lorry driver and cover Europe or the big road trains in somewhere like Australia. He explains how lonely it can be on the streets at times so a job by himself would suit him best, I can fully understand his reasoning there.

After further chit chat about things we’ve both experienced on the streets I realise our lives are pretty much identical with the exception of the drugs, begging and a thirty year age gap. We have a good conversation and a few laughs then I tell him I’m off to the library. He stands up and shakes my hand and a one armed hug then tells me of a couple of places I can get lunch or tea from later. I thank him for the info and he says “No problem, you’re one of us. Us homeless have to stick together.”

As I left him one thing stuck in my head and that was the last thing he said “You’re one of us”. As crazy as it sounds it made me feel good, a kind of sense of belonging, being part of a community. A community that I would never have known or maybe cared about if events in my life hadn’t forced me down this road.

In my local area I know nearly all the rough sleepers and homeless. To a degree I get on with all of them. There’s a few that talk about topics I don’t like and get up to things like stealing and robbing even from people that they know and help them. However it is a community and within reason I can ask for help from most of them and know I will get it. Back in what I can only refer to as regular life I can honestly say that few or indeed any would hand me their last and be left with nothing. In this community I’ve had a guy give me the last pound in his pocket so I could buy food. Lots have either given me their last cigarette or shared it with me.

To many these acts may seem small but the meaning behind them is immeasurable. It truly is humbling.

I’m glad I discovered this part of my life even if the road to get here was a very bumpy one. It’s raised an awareness in me that no explanation could do. Well saying that, that’s exactly my intention for the future, to try and get as many people as possible to see this community as I see it then maybe a few more will be able to help in any way they can.

Thanks for reading and stay safe.

Phil

New Year, New Beginning

New Year/New Beginning

 

Well it’s fair to say that last year was a bit of a rollercoaster. I won’t go into too many details but I was at the lowest I’ve ever been at the start. Months rolled round, friends were made and life, despite what you may think got better.

 

Although I’m still on the streets I’m now in a tent, Mr S. won’t sleep in it but we meet up morning and evenings for a coffee and a few smokes. I didn’t have a choice, if I had stayed at the bus stop and was disturbed while sleeping I would wake up quite defensively and people don’t like raised fists. Rather than risk frightening people or worse I thought best to stay out of the way.

 

I have met people on the street that have given me their last and asked nothing in return, I’ve also had strangers that I may never meet showing true compassion, concern and unbelievable generosity through social media. It’s all been a bit emotional and very humbling. There have been a few people helping me anonymously and I can’t thank them enough.  

 

I am currently working on something I really want to do and that’s raise awareness of those on the streets, regardless of their reasons for being there. I’m not going down the text book line of learning about people with addictions or the psychology or what puts people on the streets. My first plan is to sit and communicate with them at street level, learn about them and their lives. Hopefully I can build a trust with some of them and maybe document their lives and experiences. Then what I learn from them and already know from personal experience I can use to help others. I’ve gained a lot of knowledge about local services, charities and street life and I’m sure it will come in useful to others. I’ve had a great insight into people’s lives, people that I would never have come into contact with if my life hadn’t taken this turn. Being honest this whole chapter of my life has completely changed me. I would like to use this whole experience as a positive for myself and others.   

 

Hopefully this coming year I will find my feet and by the time next Christmas/winter comes around I can have a better support network in place for those on the streets. We need more day centres where people can come in, grab a brew and if they fall asleep in a chair well big deal. It needs to be there when other places are closed like weekends and holidays. If I can find like minded people and a suitable location I’d love it to be open every day but it’s a case of walk before I can run.

 

In order to achieve this I also have to make a living, hopefully the photography and a bit of writing will help me do this. If anyone has any other wonderful ideas for my income I’d really appreciate that. Man cannot live on Salvation Army free meals alone, even though I have for months.

 

Well as you all know I like to keep my blogs short and sweet. I would like to thank each and every one of you for reading for reading them, you’ve all helped me finish my year on a very positive note and given me motivation to push forward with my goals. To those of you that have donated to my GoFundme thanks for making it all possible. I know through Twitter, my blogs and the few I’ve had the chance to meet I have made some very special friends for life. If favours can ever be returned you have simply to ask.

 

As always, thanks for reading

Stay safe

Phil