It’s frustrating that this is not a better picture. It was taken in a hurried moment, more as a means to tell the subject’s story that to take a good picture. I met Colin in Brighton this morning. He approached me and commented on my camera and proceeded to try and engage me in conversation. I could tell he was homeless and to be honest this lack of any immediate request put me a little on edge. There were several other clearly homeless men congregating and I couldn’t help but notice that one of them had clearly been in some sort of scuffle.
I walked along the front and he walked with me; we chatted and part of his story came out. He was homeless because his mother had died in january from cancer and he’d been evicted from the house as his name was not on the tenancy agreement. Whatever the rights or wrongs or legal rights of that situation, housing, or rather the utter shitfest of a situation this country has got itself into with housing, is one of my hot buttons. We’ve played fast and loose with housing over the last 30 years. The baby boomers and quite a few of my generation (Generation X), have happily sat on property as if it were a cash point, either by virtue of remortgaging our own homes to buy nice cars (and cameras obviously) or by taking advantage of the massive subsidies available to landlords on mortgage interest deduction.We've blithely looked on as an entire generation has been disenfranchised from the most fundamental human need there is - shelter.
So Colin got my attention. In the end though I had to confess to him that I didn’t have any money on me (I really hadn’t) and that I was sorry I couldn’t help him. I’m not naive enough to believe everything I am told as a possible ‘sob story’ but what he said next convinced me that whatever else he had told that was or was not the truth, this thing was the most sincere statement I was going to hear all day.
‘It’s OK, you’ve talked to me, you’ve acknowledged that I’m a human being. That means more than money’.
He had me at that. I told him that I would be having coffee at this particular place at 8am and that if he would meet me there, I would buy him breakfast. He duly showed up, with a friend and I happily made good on the offer. It was over a bacon roll that he told me how he’d come to fall into quite such a dependent state in the first place (the reason he had been forced to move in with his mum). At one point he had been a successful electrical engineer, selling and fitting solar panels for a reputable company and making well above the national average income. Then one day, about five years ago, his wife (Sarah) and his son (Luke, who was nine), were killed in a car accident. A lorry that was being driven by someone well over their duty hours, crossed the central reservation, tipped over and crushed the car that his wife and child were travelling in. They were both killed instantly.
He hasn’t coped with this. He fell into all kinds of problems but was lucky enough to be caught by his mother and taken in before he fell onto the streets. But then she also died.
I don’t know how much of this is true. I’ve tried to verify the story as he also told me that the lorry driver went to prison for the accident. I have his surname (Marriott) but since the events he spoke of happened five years ago It’s going to be very difficult to find any references. There have been many similar stories since then.
I don’t think it matters. This man sat in front of me and relayed this story and was in tears whilst he did so. He told me he struggles most with not committing suicide (and he is a prime candidate; suicide is the single biggest killer of men under 50 and he fits the profile worryingly well). My one morsel of comfort is that the new Labour MP for Brighton has taken his case up and is accompanying him to a meeting with the council next week to get him a home. I hope this happens. I will try to keep in touch with Colin and will update here when I do.