Being homeless and in a wheelchair you feel completely vulnerable. It meant I never used to feel able to get out of my chair unless I had four walls around me and a door because I knew that somebody would think they were a joker and I’d wake up with no chair in the morning. So you don’t relax. You don’t sleep. That was how I lived on and off for two years. The worst thing about being on the streets is not knowing where you’re going to sleep at night and not having a base to go back to.
I had a motorbike accident back in 1986 when I was still working. I had nine years of hospitalisation but when I eventually went back to work I collapsed and was signed off for life by the local authority I was working with. I was very vulnerable and ill with anorexia, then I met a man and got married. I found out too late that he wasn’t very nice, things went downhill and that’s what led me to homelessness.
I’ve got a flat now. I’ve been here for quite a while and it’s great. But when I have too much time on my hands I don’t know what to do with myself, I’ve always been a worker. Being disabled I can’t do the things that other people do when they’re not working, like going to the gym, so I end up stuck at home within the four walls. I become depressed and then I’m liable to go back to anorexia. So I just keep working.
My two children were adopted 20 years ago and they’ve made contact again
I started with The Big Issue in 2002. I’d ended up begging and that just takes you lower than low. I couldn’t carry on doing that, just the thought of it brings tears to my eyes. I met somebody one night selling The Big Issue at Clapham Junction and I offered to give him a hand. I found out I could sell papers! It gave me a boost and I thought, there’s a way out of this. This is something I can do. That was a turning point for me. The pitch I have now is a busy one. It’s a meeting place and I’ve become a meeting point. A local landmark.
I tend to work up to Christmas Eve then I take Christmas Day and Boxing Day off and spend it with my dog Cassie. She’s an American bulldog-mastiff cross and she’s the softest, most gentle thing you could imagine. Then it’s back to work. That’s how much I love it. My customers mean everything to me, there’s even one family that always invites me round for Christmas. They’re very caring. People have taken me to their heart, and they confide in me. They tell you some of the most emotional things.
I’ve been through some emotional stress myself recently. My two children were adopted 20 years ago and they’ve made contact again. I saw my elder son several times. His younger brother is in Australia for a year and they’re very close so I think my elder son has found it very hard to do all that without him. I would really love to meet my younger son when he’s back and I hope he’ll want to meet me as well. We’ll see. But as long as they’re happy and healthy, that’s all that matters to me really.
I’m on my pitch Monday – Saturday, 8:30am – 3pm and occasionally Sunday
Photo: Orlando GillWimbledon, London, UK