Opinion

Why I spent the festive period giving food to people living on the streets of Manchester

John Junior shares his story of becoming homeless 20 years ago, and explains why he spent Christmas giving out food to homeless people

John Junior and Charlie, who he uses to spark conversation with people.

British mental health campaigner John Junior, 34, shares his experience of homelessness, and explains why he spent Christmas giving out food to homeless people in Manchester.

I was only 14 when I decided to leave home. I was confused about my sexuality, and I was going through a lot of things back then. I told my dad about it, and he didn’t like it. I felt uncomfortable about being there, so I just left.

After leaving home, I slept in doorways in Manchester. I was with people who actually wanted me. I didn’t care about the surroundings. I just cared about being around the people there.

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I spent around two months sleeping in doorways and staying in hostels. Back then, it was only £5 or £6 per night. Now it’s about £50. So it has become more difficult for people to stay in hostels.

After this, I spent about four months living with people who were addicted to drugs, before eventually returning home and enrolling in college, where I studied IT. 

After my dad died in 2018 and I got out of a very abusive long-term abusive relationship, I was diagnosed with PTSD and OCD. That’s when I started becoming a campaigner for mental health. I went to lots of meetings with MPs and started working with different charities.

In 2019, I started ‘John and Charlie’s Journey’ a mental health movement. ‘Charlie’ is a yellow teddy duck that I travel around with to encourage people to start a conversation with him. Straight away, it opens up conversation with whoever – men, women, couples. 

For the past five years, I’ve been going out often – once a month, or once a week –  to hand out food to people living on the street in Manchester Piccadilly. I use the money that I get from my IT business and local donations in my community to fund this. I’ve made a lot of friends on the street from doing this.

No one cares about you when you go on the street. You’re sat there with a little cup or whatever, trying to get some money. And the money’s not just necessarily for drugs or drink. It’s necessary for food, water, or even shelter.

A lot of people do have addictions on the street. When you think about it, people who live in houses like me and you could have addictions, but we have a roof over our head. People that live on the street don’t have anywhere to shower or live. It’s the same thing, really. Why should they be treated differently from us?

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I went out on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and New Years’ Eve. My friends came to help on Christmas Eve to offer support. I took ready meals from Waitrose and microwaved them. People asked me: ‘Why have you gone there spending that?’ I said: ‘I want them to eat the best.’ JustEat gave me a bag, so I whacked them all in that and handed them out. 

I also went to McDonald’s and bought 100 burgers to give out. They charged me for 40 and gave 60 for free, which was cool. That was kind of them. When I gave them out to people, they said: ‘Oh, these are so much better than those posh meals you give us.’ Every person that’s on the street is so humble and amazing. 

On Boxing day, I met up with Jordan who has been on the streets for over 10 years. I took him for a meal somewhere warm. He looked so cold. We had a chat about how he feels, and shared our experiences. It’s a struggle with mental health. It was a great chat. It’s good to speak to someone who understands, someone who doesn’t judge. 

I said: “I will see you soon, let’s do this again.” Jordan replied, “Yes I will look forward to it.”

As told to Aimee Pearcy.

The Big Issue’s #BigFutures campaign is calling for investment in decent and affordable housing, ending the low wage economy, and millions of green jobs. The last 10 years of austerity and cuts to public services have failed to deliver better living standards for people in this country. Sign the open letter and demand a better future.

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