This Homeless Story was written by Noelle Okwedy (@NoelleOkwedy)
During one of our walks in Oxford Street, we met a 46-year-old man, named Chris. A few months prior, Chris had everything a man could want; a wife, five kids and a landscaping business from which he made a decent income. However, everything fell apart when he got a divorce. He lost his wife, his business and communication with his children. All he had now was his Dog, Leo. Leo is the embodiment of the saying dogs are a man’s best friend. Leo provides companionship and protection during cold lonely nights, especially during the times when Chris was randomly abused by strangers. To Chris, the love Leo provided was like no other. He is a steadfast companion, but as the saying goes “everything with an advantage often has several disadvantages“. Leo is the reason why Chris is unable to obtain accommodation at hostels. He already struggles to feed himself and Leo, and it is easy to think “oh well just get rid of the dog, life would be easier”, but the kind of companionship Leo gives Chris is difficult to let go of. For Chris, the protection and love from Leo are more important than anything else.
Chris used to receive £64 every two weeks in benefits. Ironically, his benefits reduced to £32 per week when he became Homeless and this was not enough to get him off the streets. Chris said he was on the housing list but, did not believe he stood a chance of obtaining a house for two reasons -1) He was alone. 2) He does not think there are enough houses and resources in London to meet the level of demand. Additionally, he must have between 86 to 94 points to be eligible for accommodation but he only had 12. He is unfortunately stuck in a waiting game he has no power to change.
We asked Chris if he had received any support from the Government or any other organisations. He said he’d been assigned a care worker, but they’ve only met 3 times. He also used to receive bread and soup from a group of people, but he doesn’t see them anymore and his not sure why. On the bright side, Chris receives support from a place in St. John’s Wood called Dogs On The Street. They provide him with dog food, food for himself and a place to wash his clothes for £17.50. As a result, he makes it a priority to save at least £17.50 every month. This is just about enough to take care of himself and Leo. He wishes he could travel to other places to get help, but unfortunately he cannot afford it.
Apart from Leo, he has other friends named Phil and Amy*, who are also homeless. Phil is a veteran, who lost his leg in an explosion. Despite years of service and sacrifice, he is not able to get any benefits. All he gets is his war pension, which is not enough to live a full life in the only country he has ever called home. Amy* was born and bred in the United Kingdom. She got a job opportunity in Australia so she left. Upon her return to this country, she tried to get benefits but was told she was not entitled to it because she left the country.
Shocked at what we had been told so far, we also asked if Homeless people were territorial, and they said they can be. They described the homeless community as a group of people, who are always together but are not friends. Even Phil described Trafalgar Square as his territory. They told us that people who are Homeless tend to steal from each other. They may share the same struggles and that is all they choose to share.
Despite this, Chris counts himself as one of the lucky ones to have Phil, Amy and his faithful companion, Leo. At the moment, Chris does not have much hope for the future but with his friends and Leo as a companion, he knows he will never be alone.
*Was not formally given a name for his friend.