The other day I was waiting for a train and had a little time to spare, so I walked along the platform and I sat next to a man. He was dishevelled and had a few bags with him. He was drinking from a plastic bottle.
He said hello and we talked about the weather. It was a beautiful sunny day. For some reason his life story came out as he continued to drink. “Wine” he said and took another sip. “You?” he asked and gestured to my own plastic bottle. “Non-alcoholic” I said almost apologetically. I felt he had somehow accepted me into a world I knew nothing about.
He was a young man, no older than twenty five, who was now in a ‘no fixed abode’ situation, waiting to meet an ex-girlfriend. He said he had been waiting a while, but had no way of contacting her. He told me he had nowhere to live, that he had been in prison and that he couldn’t get a job because no one would employ him. Having no address and a criminal record is quite a barrier to trying to move forward with your life.
He told me about drinking a lot most of the time and also smoking cannabis. He had been employed before but often without employers realising his history. When they found out he was gone. His drinking had become his lifestyle. But what else would he do in the world if the world won’t give him a chance. Drinking is what he can do and helps him cope with the rejection.
He asked if he could use my phone to call his friend. I will be honest I did think twice, who wouldn’t. But I reckoned he was really an OK person just having a bad deal. I dialled the numbers, my phone is a bit weird and he made the call.
There was no answer. He said thank you and returned my phone. He was annoyed but continued to talk. He was coherent but obviously under the influence. He was a happy drunk.
We waited a while and then we tried the call again. This time the lady answered and it was obvious she was telling him she was not coming. He then got very angry. He had apparently been waiting for her for three hours. There was a lot of bad language and angry gestures. I worried about my phone. But he ended the call abruptly and said a very polite thank you as he returned it. He was very upset.
Now what would he now do for the rest of the day? Drink of course. What else was there? I had no idea where he was going to stay and what has happened to him since. My train arrived and it whisked me away. I hardly had time to say goodbye and good luck. But I did wish him luck.
I was sad for a world that obviously doesn’t get it. People need a place to stay it’s a basic right even if it is one small room in a hostel. Once you have a place to stay, you can apply for jobs, be stable, be safe and secure. You can start to build a life. Without somewhere to live what are you? The wandering population in our towns and cities are there because of circumstances of their individual lives. There, but for the grace of God go I. Many have financial problems, psychological problems, addictions, and either national service or prison records. I believe it is very rare for someone to actively choose to live on the streets.
My friend Ryan had obviously had a life once. Maybe we should all try and help him get it back.