I may have told you once, the story of a guy who used to sell the Big Issue outside of M&S in Notting Hill. I walked by most days on my lunch break. He always smiled at me, genuinely. Occasionally I bought a magazine. Then one cold December day, he was standing there dressed as Santa, with a big red belly, beard and a floppy hat. Made me smile, the effort of it all, and it stuck with me for a long time. I offered him a jelly baby and he pulled down his beard to pop it in his mouth. We got to talking.
Once in a while I would bring him a smoothie and spend my lunch break sitting there outside the shop or standing under an umbrella with him out there. He told me his life story, the way he suddenly lost everything, found himself on the streets, living in hostels when he could afford to. Not by any fault of his own. Then one day, he invited me for a coffee. We sat in Cafe Nero looking out the window on the first floor, watching the cars and the busses and the people pass through Notting Hill Gate.
I won’t share his story here, but we became friends. And he turned his life around. He no longer sells the Big Issue. He’s in Afghanistan now proud in his uniform.
But London is full of people who have fallen through the cracks, unfortunate souls who wrap themselves in old blankets and suck up the shame of it all. It’s easy to make quick judgments sometimes, to walk by blindly, to feel indifferent. I met another guy once, also in Notting Hill, who used to sit outside reading novels. I used to give him my old ones when I finished, have a chat now and then. He disappeared suddenly, I hope for good reason.
When I met Stik, the street artist who I’m sure most of you know about by now, he told me his story of being homeless and how his art has helped to pull him out of it. He’s turned his life around now as well, thanks to his creativity.
This post isn’t about the politics of homelessness. Only stories and images of Londoners who happen to know what it’s like to touch the bottom.
These photographs were taken by John Kortland. (Interview with John here).
And a final image from Shando.
A note from Shando about the above photo:
“This picture is #19 in my 100 strangers project. Was with some friends shooting around South Bank and stopped to chat to this dude. We chatted about how busy this spot was during the daytime and despite his apparent predicament he even had the cheer to crack a joke about xmas day not being so busy! When I first saw him and thought to approach him for a shot I recalled seeing a documentary on TV where a homeless dude mentioned that the lack of acknowledgement from people passing by as he begged was most disheartening and made him feel sub-human. Share a few words with these people ;)”
If you have a story of someone homeless who has touched your life in some way, leave a story in the comments. I’d love to hear about it.
PS – A little slice of shameless self-promotion – I was interviewed on Girl Habits yesterday!