Thursday, 11 August 2016

I'd like to tell my story so I can understand it

Christian, by Christian, Jimi and others book detail. The Homeless Library exhibition, Poetry Library, The Southbank, London

The Homeless Library contains many interviews with people who are currently homeless or vulnerably housed; it also includes conversations with support workers. In the following two-part interview, Katie who is a support worker at The Booth Centre talks first about her own life journey to the Booth Centre, then a day in the life at The Booth.

The Homeless Library is a project devised by arthur+martha to document the heritage of homelessness using interviews, artworks, poetry.  An exhibition of handmade books from the Library is open to the public at The Southbank, London until 18 September - the following interview is illustrated with photos taken at the exhibition. A  free ebook The Homeless Library can be downloaded here.

This project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Part 1


Going right back, my first contact with homelessness was on the morning walk to uni in Newcastle. I used to chat with the guy selling The Big Issue, a really sound guy. We would talk about everything - not about being homeless, it's not what defines you is it? I was brought up to value all people. I was lucky enough to have a roof and a strong family. Used to buy the magazine it was really good and I wanted to work there. I was already a bit of a lefty and was fascinated. 

When I left uni I was in limbo, crashed at my parents feeling like a child. Then I came to visit a friend in Manchester and I loved the city, the welcome, the vibe, the edginess. If something's edgy that's not necessarily a negative. Manchester's got plenty of edgy, in fact it's got pockets of all the UK rolled into one, it's earthy and creative, it's a melt. The segregation's not as apparent as, say, London or Leeds. People welcome you, it's big enough to have energy but small enough that you see the same faces. The industrial background increases the diversity. If everyone's the same there won't be edginess, you're in a comfort zone and how are you going to be challenged?

This centre (The Booth Centre) keeps people on their toes, keeps them trying new things. The Booth for me contains all the paths I've gone down in the third sector, the charitable sector. All the roads led here. First, I worked at The Big Issue saw an ad and knew I'd get the job, it was so right for me. The journey started. 

Then I worked at Prince's Trust, then supported housing for 9 years. Young people, intense, that was a baptism by fire. A 24 hour housing project with 20 young people who'd been asked to leave their family homes. Mostly because of relationship breakdown. Some youth offending, mostly breakdown with parental relationships. It was an eye-opener. Some surreal situations came out of all that, and some joyful. I knew I had to move on.

I knew about The Booth from all this work I was doing, heard about it, so there was already a bit of connection. I took a 4 month break from work and saw the job here advertised and thought that's for me, it just felt right.

I came here on a taster morning. Chatted to a lot of people inside, then they said go into the garden. I went out into the garden and had some conversations. Someone told me, "It's a test, they only put you out here because we are the most chaotic people here and they wanted to see how you got on." People here are often more clued up than many of the organisers. It's the same with mental health, the so-called patients will know more about medicine and symptoms than the professionals. On that first day someone told me "I would be dead if it wasn't for this place" - and I thought I want to be part of this.

WISDOM AND TRANQUILLITY: re-labelled pharmaceuticals, made by various participants. The Homeless Library exhibition, The Southbank, London

This centre is for the people, look around, they're choosing the art on the walls, they're painting the walls, they're volunteering. That's why it's such an emotional place, they've committed to it. Some days you go home and you're frazzled firefighting and you've heard some awful stories. It's like being in a volatile relationship, moments of joy and heart-tearing moments. People feel comfortable here, so they'll be open and honest. You will hear things that you might not in another place like supported housing. Children and young people need to feel safe and loved. But people here have been so excluded from so many places they don't need too many rules.

Squaddy Dave, by "Riff Raff", book detail. The Homeless Library exhibition, Poetry Library, The Southbank, London until 18 September

Interviewed by Phil Davenport at The Booth Centre Aug 2015

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