Justin, Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

Justin's dog, Bumper, goes everywhere with him so he was very relieved to find a place to live that accepts pets

I was born in Bury and grew up in London but came back up here around 20 years ago to look after my gran when she was ill. When she died, I stayed up here working, but the company I worked for went bankrupt. I had nowhere to stay because I had been living on site, so I ended up on the street. That’s when I started selling The Big Issue for the first time. 

In about 2014 or 2015, I stopped selling the magazine because I managed to get a place for myself and got another job, but then that fell through because of life and my mental health. I started selling again in 2017. It was a lot harder than before, but Covid was the real killer. Everyone pays with card for everything, but I don’t have a card reader – I don’t have a bank account. It’s been really, really hard. 

I’ve got a flat in Gorton now. I’ve been there for about a year and a half. Having a roof over my head every night, it’s great. Now I just have to earn money to pay my bills and everything – though most of my money goes on my dog, Bumper! I only work for a few hours per day because he’s getting old now, 14, and he enjoys coming out with me, but it’s getting harder for him to sit there for a long time. He can manage three or four hours at a time. 

I got him when he was a puppy, then gave him to someone else when he was one and got him back a few years after that, because his old owner ended up in a wheelchair and couldn’t look after him properly, but he still sees him. He’s a diamond – one in a million dogs. He’s so popular! He saved my life, really. He kept me going through everything. He’s my baby, basically. Your kids grow up and move away, but a dog gets closer and closer. He makes me so happy. He is my life. He’s getting on now, but I hope he’s got a few years left. 

It was difficult to find a place that let him live with me. I stopped telling people I had him. Luckily the landlord of the place I’m in now is fine with dogs, so that’s great. We landed on our feet there. If there had been a problem, I’d have moved out. 

When I was homeless, I found a B&B about 10 minutes away from where I live now that took pets, but that place has closed down. It had three rooms downstairs for people with dogs, so we were lucky to get one every night. 

Street Paws have always looked after Bumper. We’ve been going to them about seven years. I actually met them when I was begging, before I started selling The Big Issue again. It’s saved me a lot of money on vet bills. He’s had a couple of lumps over the past couple of years, but he’s bounced back, which is good. He gets his inoculations done through them. He gets a general check-up every month, too – they pass our pitch every week or so – and he gets checked virtually every couple of weeks by a vet. He gets medication for arthritis now too. He’s still like a puppy, but he gets tired a lot quicker! 

Bumper loves being on my pitch with me. There are no cars there so he can run around and play. If he’s not with me, he starts crying. I can’t even go into a shop without him howling! He’s a total daddy’s boy. I wouldn’t do a job where I couldn’t take him with me. He’s more important than a job. 

Come along and say hello to Bumper – he loves the attention!

Words: Brontë Schiltz

Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, UK