It’s a year since James Campbell hit the road and travelled north looking for work. In a series of extraordinary diaries he shared his experiences with our readers: sleeping rough he found friendship and fear, and learned how hard it is to find support. We are proud that The Big Issue published his writing and played a part in helping him move on and up. In this, his final entry, ‘James’ gained the confidence to reveal his true identity. So meet Joe Gallagher, a man with hope for the future at last…
It’s February. It’s beautiful outside today, sunny and fresh, and I have taken a picnic to Princes Street Gardens. I want to remember. The people I have met and things I have seen.
Remembering the young woman that walks around pushing a baby stroller with a bunch of flowers in the seat, talking and sometimes arguing with someone no one else can see. Everyone says she is crazy and other street folk avoid her; this may be true but I have spoken with her many times, she is lovely and really funny. I never ask about the flowers, it’s not my business.
Then there’s Gerry, Stevie, Tony and other guys I have come across who, despite their circumstances and very often chemical difficulties, are really sound people and in their way have helped guide me through this disaster without expecting anything in return.
It’s time to stand up, take responsibility, take the power back and reclaim what is a Human Right
And Bandana, formerly known as Poncho – how did he get his street names!? My friend Nacho, I wonder how he is and hope that he is happy and has found peace. And all the other beautiful and not so beautiful people who are navigating their way through this despicable mess. It’s time to stand up, take responsibility, take the power back and reclaim what is a Human Right.
Since I last wrote, the Scottish Magazine Awards are out of the way: I didn’t win and was neither surprised nor disappointed. Not surprised because the standard of journalism is magnificent and I am just a first attempt lowly diarist; not disappointed because what happened exceeded my expectations. I never thought I would be published, never mind nominated for Feature Writer of the Year – total mind fuck!! I was honoured to meet The Big Issue staff who work behind the scenes to keep the issue of homelessness in the public consciousness, and of course the Chief who I think of as ‘The Big Fella’. All Hail!
Christmas and New Year have also been and gone, thank fuck for that! I was more miserable than I could ever imagine. Those folk on the street – lonely, lost and far from loved ones or those they used to love; or those who, wherever they are, are just lost – will get me. Although I was in the warmth and safety of the BnB, it held little comfort. If anything I felt guilty.
Burns Night cheered me. It’s also my birthday so I went and had a traditional evening – haggis, neeps, tatties and all that – on my own, and met great people and had a good craic.
I think about the agencies who have helped, and are still helping me and others. Four people in particular have done more for me in this short time than they will ever realise, I don’t think they even know! So now I will name names. Lee, who when she found out about my Diary bought me a really nice leather-bound journal as a gift to record my adventures. Jill, who when I thought all was lost told me a story of great courage that gave me a proper kick up the arse. The ‘Big Fella’ who took a punt on a rank outsider, published my work, spoke to the council and reminded me of my self-worth.
The proof-reader from The Big Issue who I sat next to at the Awards; I was really nervous and apprehensive about being in ‘normal’ company but she put me at ease and when I started to down the alcohol a wee bit more than I should she kept me in check. Thank God!
I remember the Fringe Festival, that was great fun and I saw great comedy, drama and art all for free.
I recall the time I came under attack one night sleeping out, some guy wanted my sleeping bag. Unfortunately for him I know how to look after myself. Unfortunately for me I found out how far I am prepared to go to defend myself, and if Nacho hadn’t intervened I would, in no doubt, be in a whole heap of shite right now. I am a pacifist and not proud of this incident. Mind you, I never had any bother since.
Three years ago I had a well-paid job, decent car and, although transient due to working around the country as a freelance Mental Health Worker, always stayed in nice digs and was able to take two, maybe three foreign holidays a year. Nice clothes and could pretty much do what I wanted. I sort of live the same way now except for the rough-sleeping and without money or a job.
The government’s austerity measures had fully kicked in and my type of work was – and still is – under attack
Family circumstances took over and I took time out from work. When these circumstances were resolved I took to the road again, financial resources all but depleted. The government’s austerity measures had fully kicked in by this time and my particular type of work was and still is one of the areas under attack. On behalf of myself, my colleagues and people needing these services, thanks illegal Bullingdon Society member, multi-millionaire, super smug Cameron, you’re doing a great job, well done! You certainly are a ‘Jeremy Hunt’!
Anyways, my experiences continue and I will continue to record them. However, in these austere times where more people are finding themselves homeless, I wanted to offer some guidelines for Survival. Simple but effective:
- Find out who your local helping agencies are and contact them.
- Be as honest as you can.
- Avoid using drugs and alcohol.
- If you are using anything, get help from an agency, for example being on a methadone programme is better and healthier than trying to find money and using heroin. And you may find it useful!!
- Be polite to EVERYONE, do not be rude or aggressive even if they’re asking for it, this includes Police – it really does save loads of hassle.
- Do not carry weapons, see if there are any free self-defence classes.
- Stay as clean and presentable as you can.
- Take advantage of any positive opportunities on offer.
- Keep all appointments.
- Don’t give up.
- Keep a journal.
All these things, when the pressure is on, are not easy to do – but not impossible. Remember the ‘problem’ is not the problem, it’s how you deal with it. And for those members of the public who are quite rightly outraged by the current state of affairs:
- Buy The Big Issue.
- Have a chat with your vendor – about anything.
- If you see someone begging and don’t want to give them money, a sandwich and a smile, as simple as it is, goes such a long way (I had never before imagined what a boost something like that would give me).
- Write to your local MP and in no uncertain terms declare your disgust at this problem affecting other human beings.
- Support your local agencies.
Here’s a list of all the organisations that helped me, in no particular order: Streetworks, The Big Issue, Salvation Army, The Access Point, The BnB where I stay – respect to Paul and Stevie. The Access Point medical practice, Access Point Dental Practice.
Free Food (incidentally the majority are run by religious organisations): Social Bite, Guru Nakan’s Kitchen, Hopetoun Crescent Sisters, Carrubers, Care Van, St Paul and St George’s Church, St John’s Grassmarket Community Centre Cafe, Salvation Army.
Into this new year I need to concentrate on my whole future. I need somewhere stable to live, a proper job, establish new friendships, hopefully meet a woman to share things with.
The Big Issue has inspired the launch of 120 street papers globally, including sister titles in Australia, South Africa, Japan, Taiwan and Korea.
With all these things in mind Dear Readers I shall bid you farewell, for now. My future is far from certain but these past 10 months has served as a great lesson for me both personally and spiritually. Despite my position I feel happier now than I have for a long, long time and after searching for many years I have finally found a place where I want to settle, Edinburgh, Scotland.
I am home. Not that I recommend this path to happiness but for me it seems it was just what I needed.
I choose to live life, contribute to society and I am determined to create happiness that, in retrospect, in the past has been just an illusion.