This Homeless Story was written by Noelle Okwedy (@NoelleOkwedy). Here is her account of the August Homeless Walk, where she met Joe:
“The team and I met Joe on the 22nd of August 2017 on our Homeless walk. We started at King’s Cross St. Pancras and ended up walking to Tottenham Court road station. We split into groups and walked around the area. Joe was the first Homeless person I came across that day, as well as being the first Homeless Person I had ever interacted with. I tried to keep an open mind because I am aware that life can be unpredictable and can change for anyone within the blink of an eye. I was completely blown away after hearing Joe’s story.
Joe is a 27-year-old man; a trained pastry chef originally from South Africa. Before he was homeless, he owned his own business and was married with a beautiful three year old daughter. His life was not perfect, but he was happy. Growing up, things were tough for Joe. In South Africa, his mother left him when he was 10 and he lost his brother at the age of 16. He soon left home after. Despite all this, he found himself in London where he trained as a pastry chef, married and became a father.
Things soon fell apart after the breakdown of his marriage. There were numerous contributory factors such as cultural difference (she was Polish and he was South African) and their age gap (she was 12 years older). However, he admitted the main cause of their relationship breakdown was his drug and gambling addiction. His wife kicked him out of the house, he lost his business and eventually ended up homeless.
Meeting him, marked two years since he had been Homeless. While on the streets, he faces verbal and physical abuse from the public and tries to be on guard at all times to protect himself from other homeless people looking to encroach on his territory. We asked him if he had received any support from the Government, but he said he hasn’t and the only thing he got was the £4,500 paid monthly in taxes when he was a business owner.
Despite these challenges, Joe is still very optimistic about the future and counts himself as one of the lucky ones. Today, he lives drug-free; has quit gambling; is a Christian and attends the Hillsong Church at Tottenham Court road. He has plans to move back to South Africa and thankfully when he was successful, he set aside a trust fund for himself in South Africa which he hopes to use to get back on his feet. The first thing you notice when you met Joe is his smile and his unfailing optimism. I don’t really understand how he stays so cheerful but he has inspired me to be thankful for what I have. One thing that Joe said that really stood out to me was that life is unpredictable. In this words, “One day you’re up and the next you’re down but we must never lose hope for ourselves and for others.”“