We're finishing the warm /&/ the cold our project with homeless people over the next weeks. The following interview is with J who was kind enough to describe his life very frankly. The interview took place in the summer, but I've held it back til now because J spoke so powerfully about living with the cold, surviving the time of year that's now nearly upon us.
Sleeping in snow - cold, you know what I mean. Times you are just waiting for the sunlight, for the morning to come. Are you going to make it through the night? Get up and walk around a couple of hours, get the blood moving. The worst? Being wet and cold, that's when you get pneumonia. A lot of people die in their sleep on the street.
January time, freezing. Always try to get under cover, get a bit of cardboard. Even if you're sleeping out in spring or autumn, you'll need cardboard on a stone floor. I used to know some lads who would stack ten or twelve bits of carboard, like a mattress. Wheelie bins, I've slept in them but they're dangerous. Fall asleep and next thing you're getting minced in a bin lorry.
Fella died in Brighton last year when I was down there, bled to death through his back passage. Cancer or something. I knew him by sight, seen him drinking. I stay away from drinkers, it's easy to fall into a lot of things - heroin, drink, renting. I keep myself to myself. Have a few friends. Good to have mates, three or four blokes and you're safe. Amount of people who get kicked in... Kids battered a fella to death with a shopping trolley. Madness. Some people do it for the fun of it I think, must be drunk. I try not to sleep in the city centre. Walk a mile or so, if it's dry and warm kip in the park. If it's wet, you need to be out of the wet. Somewhere where the nutters aren't.
People on the streets, Ive met lawyers, doctors living homeless. Maybe their wife died, or a kid and they've run away from it all. The trouble with the street is it's addictive. There's always something happening. No one to tell you what to do. No person you are responsible for except yourself, or your dog. Things change every minute.
Dogs are good company. I'm thinking of getting a dog. You look after them and they look after you. A dog's got a woolly coat and they're warm to cuddle. And they keep strangers at bay. The dog, he'd eat before me. If people see the dog looking nice, they're kind to you. If they see a dog looking emaciated...
One of the worst things is finding your friends are dead. I know it always comes as a surprise, but on the street it happens a lot. It can be such a lot of times. Three or four in a month. The average life expectancy is 44. If you've been on the streets since you were 16 you haven't seen doctors regularly. Lads on the street if they're poorly won't go and see a doctor. You need money first. Do you chase money or go see a doctor? You need dinner down your stomach before you need meds.
You can have some good laughs though. I remember being on top of a mountain in the Black Hills, on a sofa, taken four Es...
A lot of people take too many drugs, that's the problem. Self-harm, suicide. One lad I knew used to cut his face. I said if you've gotta do it, cut your arms. Springtime that's the last time I saw someone self-harm. This girl - I saw her arms...
I dunno, people feel sad of themselves. All running from something. Not crime, things you done to your family. Say you've got a visit with your kids and you can't see them cos you've got no money and they're crying... One bloke, my daughter's godfather, died sleeping out. He wasn't a drug addict, just a drinker.
But everyone dies, if they've got a house or not.