Monday, 23 February 2015

An ear to bash

We are now deep into our new project The Homeless Library, working at The Wellspring resource centre for homeless and disadvantaged people in Stockport. Many homeless people live and die as "invisibles" who are not valued or acknowledged. When they die (and rough sleepers have a very short life expectancy) their very existence leaves no trace, except in memory. This project opens an untold chronicle, that exists off the pages of official history books...

Image courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives


Keep it anonymous - people on the street will know who said it anyway. 

I always start from the beginning. I've had two of my mates die next to me in the streets of Manchester. Wake up in the morning and they've died, I was talking to them the night before. When you ask where they're buried, there's plaques with "Unknown", "Unknown", in Southern Cemetery. £15 to bury them, still called a pauper's grave, and a plaque with all the people who died. 

"Bag Lady" her name was Kath, met her on Store Street underneath the railway arches. They were knocking them down whilst we were sleeping there. 2005, knocked it all down and turned it into a car park. You'd go underneath the Store Street tunnel and then on the left hand side the old arches went back into the ground. We woke one morning and they were knocking it down on top of us. That's how I met Steve and Irene. 

Steve and Irene Brown, we call them mum and dad on the street. Come round twice a week, a Christian food van, used to be an ambulance. They've been doing it 12 years. The Christian Fellowship Church in Sale. Barnabus started coming in on different nights, a medical van and food. One for the working girls and one for us.

Steve and Irene mean a lot to me. When I was younger, lost my faith in God. I got re-baptised at Steve's church. Once a week Steve would ring me up (if it was a girl Irene would ring them) and say can I take you out for a meal? A group of homeless people got together and wrote a letter to the Queen - he got an MBE through the guys on the street. 

A woman came down Store Street with a couple of oranges. Homeless people wouldn't take them from her as they didn't trust her. I went over and took one and then the others did after. She asked me to help build a shop. She's a physiotherapist, takes the aches and pains from the homeless people. Jane from Bolton, she's a Christian as well, gave me my first cross. Three and a half months building for her, lived in the place whilst doing it. 

"Jesus" Paul, my best mate in Stockport, has a card with a Red Cross on it. Looks homeless himself. Beard and long hair. Goes down The Mustard Tree, helps out, gives them roll up paper, washing machines...

Two Finger Dave used to deal in guns, got his fingers cut off. He's a Christian now, turned his life around. Was on drugs. Been in a house four years now, homeless before. Through the same Church I met him and Steve Brown.

Kath the Bag Lady, I was honoured to carry her coffin. She died two years ago. Would always come down to the street, always carrying bags, face covered in makeup, bright red lipstick. Would always help homeless people, give a pound. We would tell her our problems, have a cry on her shoulder. I wanted to put a plaque up for her, at The Queen in Piccadilly Gardens. There's a wooden seat and she'd sit there all the time. An ear to bash. They found out after she died she was loaded, had gold in the house, rings she would buy, all went to her brother.

She wasn't living on the streets, looked like a clown with makeup all over her face. But if she saw you she would come out with something from her bag, biscuits or something to eat, or give you a quid. Everyone will tell you about Kath, everyone loved her. These people I'm telling you about, it's the way I see them, but it's the way other people on the street see them as well.

Council said there were 48 people living homeless when they were confronted by the Evening News. We know there were 4000. It was in the Manchester Evening News, a few years ago now. Council denying how many people are homeless in Manchester. They've always denied how many's homeless. They've even chased the vans away from Store Street to outside the city centre. On Wednesday now Steve goes to Oil Street with his van, it's where the working girls go, on the way to Openshaw. The Council are driving them further and further away. In the last four years they've shifted the vans five times. There's a curry van comes onto Oxford Road that's run by a guy who owns a restaurant, and another run by the students. Not a lot of people know about those vans, but the homeless do, obviously.

I know where everyone is sleeping in Manchester. Salford arches, at least 40 people. Deansgate  arches, quite a lot. It should be known, because people are dying there. Yes some are drinking, some are smoking, but they're still human beings.

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.

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