Martin McKenzie, 39, Stroud Green Road Tesco, London
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I got out of foster care as soon as I turned 16. Even at that age I was mature enough to be on my own because I’d spent a lot of time on the run from my home. I suffered violence and it was so bad that both my primary school and secondary school tried to take action. So I spent a lot of time running away and it affected my education. I played catch-up between 18 and 19 and went to some literacy and numeracy classes. To begin with I was working for Codona’s carnival in Aberdeen and sleeping in a shelter down by the docks. It was daunting but the guy who ran it looked after me. I was quite young and quite small. Then I discovered The Big Issue and they badged me up.
Now I’m in London, and this is where I’ll retire and where I’ll die. I was working at the Taste of London food festival, I decided to stick around and here I am. Before that I’d lost a flat and had quite serious depression. I left the flat for three weeks to spend some time with friends in Scotland and the landlord assumed I’d abandoned it, even though the rent was paid and all my property was there. But he changed the locks and had somebody else in there before I’d even got back. All my stuff was outside. I’d been doing alright, but I’m not going to lie – losing the flat left me pretty low. And I’m hard to put down.
One of my customers is taking me in at the moment. It’s quite an unusual situation. He used to walk past me where I slept rough and he noticed I was different from the others. I had technology and I was quite happy sitting there watching my little tablet. I made it as normal as I could. But he used to buy magazines from me and bring me hot meals, then one day he saw me being mugged and he said, “That’s it, I’ve had enough. You’re coming to stay at mine.” That was about three or four months ago and I’ve been there ever since.
I’m saving up for a rickshaw from Dubai so I can start a business. The idea is to be a mobile bike mechanic with a rack on the back so I can either fix the bike or take it away if the damage is heavy, and take cyclists to their destination. I’ve got mechanic skills, electronic skills, plumbing, joinery… I’ve got trades coming out of my ears. The rickshaw’s a hybrid and it’s got a big plastic body rather than a silly piece of fabric over your head and the driver has a seat rather than a saddle. They are really fancy. I’m using my Big Issue earnings to save and my sales are picking up now because the locals are getting used to me. They know I’m a good egg.
I’ve got a good circle of friends around me. I don’t hang out with other homeless people but I still help them out whenever I can because of the progress I’ve made. Every week I’m taking a step up. I put it all down to The Big Issue. I had quite severe depression before, it comes and goes, but selling the magazine has helped. I’m not saying I’ll do it for ever but I’m hoping it’s going to lead me forwards to what I want to do, which is get my business off the ground. I’ve had a business before so I know what I’m doing with taxes and all that sort of stuff. It’s doable, I’ve just got to put the time and effort in. I’m quite determined. It doesn’t matter how low I go, I’ll always make my way back up.
Images: Orlando Gili
105-119 Stroud Green Rd, Finsbury Park, London N4 3PX, UK