Caught up in a constant downpour and strong winds, the streets were almost empty of shoppers at 6pm. I don’t blame the late night shoppers having a night off tonight, on my way into Brighton after a days work I could see what the weather was going to be like. My first thought? “I need to go home, I’m recovering from a chest infection, I need a hot cup of tea and bed!” My second thought? “What am I thinking? I came into town for a reason and one reason only. These are the kind of nights the homeless need us the most.”
The evening started with withdrawing £100 from the donations that were transferred into my account last week. I was in Brighton no more than 5 minutes and on my way to Primark, I already saw 3 homeless stuck out in this horrific weather. Two of them without shelter.
I spent about £50 in Primark on black fleece blankets, thermal socks, thermal hats, thermal gloves, thermal jumpers and baby wipes. By this point Lucy Ives and Chantelle Miles were on their way into town to help me on this long evening ahead…
Outside a Pret I see a gentleman selling big issues whilst clinging onto his hot cup of tea and moving side to side to keep himself warm. I go up to him and introduce myself. His name is Rob, he’s 52 years old, a man who tries to keep himself clean and looks at me in fear. I explain that donations have been made and I ask him if I can make him a gift bag with socks and gloves. “I can’t believe what I’m hearing. It’s especially cold tonight and my knuckles are cracked from standing out here.” He’s so grateful and raises a huge smile, the fear in his eyes gone.
I want to share Robs story to give you a little insight to our government.. This has to be heard and he asks me to spread the word. Being homeless was not his choice.
Rob lived in the midlands with his wife and son, his wife left him for someone else and kicked him out of their home. His son being 6 years old at the time. Rob stayed with his life long friend, he tells me his wife wouldn’t let their son stay with him as he was sleeping on the sofa. He lived like this for 2 years when his now ex wife decided to move away with their son and new man, cutting all ties with Rob. Heartbroken and grieving, fed up of fighting as it wasn’t getting him anywhere Rob and his friend decide to move to Brighton in a caravan.
Years go by when his friend develops COPD (a type of lung disease). Caring for his friend, Rob worked as a part time builder and spent the other half of his time going to doctors and hospitals with his friend. A letter through the door changed Rob’s life, the council were closing down the caravan site but promised to rehouse all the residents into flats. Rob and his friend lived in a studio flat until the council could find Rob somewhere else, his friend took priority due to his illness. Taking a turn for the worse his friend was hospitalised and so Rob left his job to look after him full time. Thinking he could get back into the building industry, he failed along with applying for various other jobs. The only thing left for him to do was sell the big issue.
The council saw Rob selling the Big Issue and claimed he shouldn’t be as he’s not homeless, he replied with “technically I am, you took my caravan and now I’m sleeping on a sofa.” The councils reply was that he would no longer be allowed to stay with his friend.
Rob has applied to be a carer for his friend who he says “he’s only got a few years left in him if he doesn’t get a lung transplant.” But is deemed unfit for the role as he’s homeless. Rob will go round to see his friend daily and is allowed to stay no longer than a few days at a time, not giving up on his friend he still takes him to hospitals and doctors. What ever money he has he spends on hostels to have somewhere to sleep. He says “tonight has been dead, no one is in town because of the weather and I spent my last bit of money on a KFC and tea. I’ll have to sleep on the streets tonight, I have no choice.” Handing him over £5 he looks at me and says “I can’t take this from you, you’ve done so much already.” And puts it in my coat pocket. Hesitant I give it back to him.
The insight he has given me tonight is amazing… I asked about his son and Rob said that his friend found him on Facebook, he’s 24 years old now. I asked him out of curiosity why he couldn’t stay with his son. He replies with “are you joking? I’m homeless and have no money, I’m embarrassed, he can never see me like this.” Rob showed me a little notebook he carries with him which has his sons number in, “I speak to him every Sunday, I call him from a pay phone”. His words gave me goosebumps.. Around the same age as my dad, it’s unbearable to think about my dad in his position.
Lucy & Chantelle arrived. We met Leon who is 28 years old, Leon wanted nothing more than a double cheeseburger from Burger King and a pint of coke. Whisking him over a Burger King and handing him a gift bag with essentials, Leon smiles at us and refers us to lovely ladies! Leon’s story was short, he was in prison for supplying marijuana and after he got out his family were too ashamed and washed their hands off him. Leon now sleeps in a car park.
Opposite the road we meet a very pretty 30 year old called Kelly. The only female we see tonight, wrapped up warm she has already been given a bacon sandwich from someone else. So we tell her our story of the donations and point to a co op “we are going into co op, what do you need? Food? Juice?” Her list was a simple “a toothbrush and toothpaste please, maybe a deodorant.” Kelly has been on the streets for 8 months, she has applied for many jobs but says no one takes her seriously. With no fixed address it’s almost impossible to get one. Kelly tells us about the under cover cops who go around giving a pound to the homeless and if the homeless accept they get arrested. “It’s against the law to beg, but how else are we supposed to get money and live if we can’t get a job and the government doesn’t help us?”
Now think about that. Without money nothing gets done, how can we expect these people to go get jobs and get off the streets if NOTHING is being done?
"You don’t want to be on the streets do you?" I ask. "Of course I don’t! I didn’t choose this life.."
Our journey tonight takes us to a shy man called Andre, he only wanted a pair of gloves but nothing to eat or drink. “Do you eat?” We asked him, he shook his said and said no. A young man, clearly broken and sad..
Along the road we talk to 2 elderly gentlemen, both in their late 60’s. Roger is 67 and was in the army for most of his life without qualifications he couldn’t get a job and has been on the street for 23 years. Imagine your grandpa who served in the army for our country, you then walk past him and see tears in his eyes because he’s so cold and the words he mutters only speak the truth. “The council don’t give a monkeys about us. They don’t care I was in the army, they don’t care I am an OAP.”
These elderly gentlemen have been interviewed in the past by local papers. The only thing they wanted was a cup of tea and a beef burger. Offering them some money they reject and say “no, no, no, we don’t want your money. We will not take money from you young ladies.”
To end our evening we meet 3 young guys, mid/late twenties with 2 beautiful dogs. The boys have guitars and a recorder and play us Jimi Hendrix - All Along The Watchtower. Dancing along to their serenade we all smile and sing along. At the end we asked them what they would like to eat, we bring them a subway each with coffees and tea and also cans of dog food for their adorable pooches.
Soaked to the bone even in our big posh jackets we all look at each other and smile. 3 girls in our twenties, we have finished our duty for the night. Jumping on the train home in our wet jackets and clothes we would normally moan and complain about how cold we are and how we want our beds and tea. Mind blown by our experience tonight it’s hard to think that way now, if anything guilt had swarmed over us as we head back to our homes.
Friday sees us heading to London, a huge thank you to Lucy Ives & Chantelle Miles who have been AMAZING.
Would also love to credit: River Island, Asos, New Look, Gilette and Heat magazine for their kindness to donating clothes and items! Well done to Lydia Thompson and her friend Jo for contacting the PR companies, what a remarkable difference you’re gonna make!
Also thank you to the donations for yesterday : Charlotte Anderson, Steve Robertson, Jan Irvine and Rosie Lee