Kenny Whitecross, 39, Stockbridge, Edinburgh
I used to beg in this part of Stockbridge and I got really friendly with the Big Issue vendor who had this pitch, Steven McKenna. He tried to encourage me to get badged up but then he died in April. I took his advice to try selling The Big Issue and I asked for his pitch specifically as I knew the locals. It’s sad that it came to losing a friend, but it’s what he would have wanted.
Selling a magazine is much better mentally than begging. It’s night and day between the two. I used to sit with my cup out, scruffy. But this is a lot more interactive with people. It’s 100 per cent better for me mentally. A lot of my customers are people who used to buy the magazine from Steven, and they’re saying I’ve got a smile on my face these days. They say, “You look clean, you look tidy, you’re dressed smart.” They’ve noticed the difference. The people around here are so friendly and I do sell quite a few magazines when I put my mind to it.
I used to have a home but I had accumulated rent arrears and got evicted. I had to prove I hadn’t made myself intentionally homeless and while I was waiting for that I was on the streets for six months. Just before Steven died I got into a hostel and I’m still there now. You get your own room within a flat with a washing machine, tumble dryer and a support worker who keeps on my case and makes sure I shave!
The change has been dramatic. Now I close my door and know I’ll have no bother. When I was sleeping on people’s stairs some would call me a junkie bastard. I’d say, “Hang on a minute, do you see any drug paraphernalia? I’m just trying to get my head down for a few hours.” But most people were quite nice; the majority would even bring me out something to eat.
I’ve had huge problems with drugs in the past. I’m on a methadone script now and I’m hoping to reduce it in two or three months. I’ve got a good handle on things for the first time and a good support network. I’ve re-engaged with my mum and my 14-year-old son, who has autism. I yo-yoed with drugs but I always tried to call him once a week but recently it’s been more than that. He asked what my job is and I told him it’s selling magazines, so he’s happy for me. It’s going in the right direction for the first time in a long time.
I’m being assessed for Asperger’s and ADHD. I haven’t been diagnosed yet but they’ve said there’s a high chance. It explains a lot of my behaviour from when I was young. I was constantly drawing football pitches because I was really interested in sport and obsessive about things that stimulated me mentally. I had an encyclopedic knowledge of football, athletics, boxing. Once I get the diagnosis it will explain a lot and open doors for me to get a better understanding of why I do what I do.
Once I’ve got off the methadone I’d like to go to college to learn how to help people who are going through what I’ve been through. I think people will be more inclined to listen to me than someone who has just done the theory. That’s the long-term goal.
Images: Anna Deacon Photography
Costa Coffee, Raeburn Place, Edinburgh, UK