|Artist book, collaboration. For the project 'The Homeless Library.'|
Homeless depends on what you mean by homeless. If you mean sleeping rough no. But if you mean I was in difficult circumstances and I had to leave and stay with a friend, then yes. It was decisions I made, not the right ones. I can speak around the edges because it personal. A long relationship a long distance one. I'm from Nigeria and I got a job here. While I was working here I had a girlfriend in Nigeria. I miss managed it. Trying to get her over here was expensive. Then the company I was working for went bankrupt. It all happened together.
I was supposed to go for a job in London I interviewed and got the job. They wanted me to wait for a few months and then said the role had gone. After I lost that job it made me sad. It was a significant job, something I wanted a long time and when I didn't get it I was disappointed. Something I really wanted. It was hard, so hard.
I had been to university - bachelors and masters and all that. I had to retrain, I'd been putting all my eggs in one basket which you shouldn't do.
When I lost the job I wanted to refocus and try to get in a better situation. You're only safe on a job for as long as employer wants you. So I looked at being self employed. I could've gone to London and stayed with my sister but I didn't want to be a burden. I stayed in Manchester stayed with friends. Didn't want to be a burden.
Looked at self-employment, then set targets and started working towards them. Because I stopped acting with clarity that's when I got into problems. I got too emotional, which I usually am not, and that created the problems. If you are too emotional it becomes a problem but if you're too intellectual you are not compassionate. You need a balance. In my case, I now think I should've come out of that relationship. As I've grown older I know that loving someone doesn't mean you should necessarily be in a relationship with them.
What is the difference between being homeless in Nigeria and homeless in the UK? The key difference in the UK as compare to Africa is here people are more economically stable, they're more likely to give. You can only give if you have. Here you've got centres like this (The Booth Centre) offering food and so on. Housing is more complex they can't easily provide that. But in Nigeria and most African countries you won't get this level of help. You have to rely on friends and family and if that doesn't work you starve. Beg on the streets. That increases violence. How do people survive? They get a gun or a knife and they rob. I tend to believe people here look out for the other person. That's why you have groups fighting for fairness - Gay rights, equal pay, equal rights for women. This is because they're looking out for others.
I'd say poverty does a lot to the human being. Where there's a general lack people become selfish. They think about survival for themselves and their families and no one else.
In my opinion you only succeed as a group. People come together and that is the way they solve problems. For instance, in Nigeria you might have the money and a big car and a posh school for your kids but you are still not safe. The guys at the bottom are going to rob you. You could lose property, loved ones, lose your life. I think success should be defined as a reward for a group. As long as I have anything, as long as I have enough, I want to share. Material things or knowledge I want to share. That way we all get ahead together.
Interview with Phil at The Booth Centre, July 2015
The Homeless Library is a project devised by arthur+martha to document the heritage of homelessness using interviews, artworks, poetry. It is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.