Wednesday, 4 November 2015


'The Ark' homeless camp (now demolished) Manchester 2015

Our work is always an experiment, like any creative making. That means we never quite know where an idea will lead. For instance, a recent discussion about soup kitchens turned into a description of homelessness as a food-chain, with predators, hunting packs and people as prey.

I'd had a vague idea about a human food-chain previously; the interviewee below picked up on this and made it into a frame for his own experience. Let's be clear, this is only one way of seeing the homeless community, and there are probably as many visions of the life as there are people experiencing it. But - as this interviewee asks - how can we see through many eyes at once - and how do we inhabit our own truth? 

Street protestor in Manchester 2015


You've spoke to all these homeless people and you've got all this information but it doesn't make any sense to you, you don't know what it means. That's because you can't know. You haven't lived it...

This life, it's a food chain. I've been on all stages of it. You can be in any of these stages at any time. You gotta know who you are and what you want, or someone will try to take you over. I've been a young shark, I've been a drinker, I've been vulnerable.

First you've got sharks. You've got the loan sharks and the drug sharks. You'll never meet the main shark, he has his thousands around him. You're only meeting the young sharks, the baby sharks. 

The sharks try to drag you back in to the life. They'll give you a taster and then you'll learn how to sell. Selling to others so that you can afford to buy your own. Sharks get into the pride of women to get them onto drugs, then the girl's on the street. The sharks get into people to get them feeling the lowest of the lowest. Then they're vulnerable, then get them earning for their drugs or drink. Even when you're prostituting everything that you are they'll take their 50% and they'll never let you go. If they ever give you a little, you owe them forever.

I was a little shark, but the Christian side of me was stronger. A footman. The footman, I call them "footstool", only has so many drug bags on them at a time. The footstool goes out with a few bags only. If he knows he'll get done by the drug squad he'll try to pass the bags to another footstool. If they get frisked for 20 bags that's a lot of money, they'll probably only have three or four.

Sharks. They're the powerful, the manipulators. You could say that the Council are also sharks. You could say that some who offer help are pulling us back in. They'll pull you back in because they want to be in control of your life. Help you and get you depending on them. I take a little bit of help but put my own into it too. People get dependent on help just like drugs cos they don't have their own mind.

Next down you've got the strong ones and the clever. They're the ones who want to get through, want to get out, get into different stuff. Sometimes they're clever enough. Sometimes they're too strong, too violent. Dog eat dog. They're powerful but not as powerful as a shark. The groups of users and drinkers are in there - "it's my turn to buy now, yours later." Social pressure. Drinkers often drink because they're in a pack and can't get out of it. They're usually after money, they're feeding for it. Others buy for you and then you for them. It'll always come round to your turn to pay and if you haven't got money you're gonna get hit, beat up.

The police are on this level but leave it alone mostly. If you're not drinking or digging (using drugs) on the street they won't get involved. Sometimes coppers have kicked me around and stuff but they won't really get involved with the homeless. Move you on and that's it. Sometimes they even help you.

You also get the political groups. They manipulate too. What do I think of the homeless protests? We were doing it ten years ago. The Council claimed there were only 23 homeless people in Manchester. So five of us got 4500 homeless people marching. The Council don't want to know the numbers, they don't want the numbers known. The number of people on that march went into a lost file...

Last, at the bottom, are the vulnerable. They are the food. They've got mental health issues. And they are the girls on the street, they've gotta do it for the habit. Prostitute themselves to pay for the drugs, do whatever they have to, you know what I'm saying. Maybe they suffer most.

Bad things happen on the street, some people go crazy. I've had 15 years on the street and that 15 years is in my head. I'm in a flat but I have bad dreams. I don't sleep in the bed even now. Still get flashbacks, still processing it all. I've talked to so many people I've not just got my own problems, I've also got other people's problems in my head. Seen people dying, friends, it does get into your head. I used to think other people were more important than me, it made me feel good to help them, to put them first. Now I've learned to put myself first...

Now, I'm stepping back from it all. I'm putting your mind in the frame of it.

(Interview with Phil at The Wellspring 27 October)

Chalked pavement text, Manchester 2015

The Homeless Library is the first ever attempt to write a history of homelessness in Britain. It includes not only individual testimonies, but also poetry and art, giving it a shape like no other.

The Homeless Library project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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