Stephen, 27, Middlesbrough Bus Station

I used to beg but one day I asked an undercover police officer for money and I ended up getting arrested. The police put me on to The Big Issue, and someone came up to see me and asked if I would be up for selling the magazine. I told him that would be brilliant so he got it arranged. I’ve been selling it for about 10 months and it’s completely different to begging. Number one, I feel less embarrassed. Number two, I develop relationships with people. It’s also helped me to earn money so I could get myself in somewhere and pay the top-up on my rent. 

The Big Issue has helped me get off drugs but being clean is very, very difficult. When I was younger and homeless I would have taken everything just to block things out. But now I’m living in a house with my best friend and one other lad. Before, I was constantly sleeping on the streets. Now I feel safe and I’m able to actually sleep.

When I was arrested for begging it was embarrassing but I was used to it because unfortunately when I was younger I got in a lot of trouble. I went to jail for 21 months but it was a turning point for me. When I got out I realised that because I was in with the wrong crowd I kept getting into trouble. So I thought I had to do something. I moved away and ever since I haven’t associated with people like that. 

I’ve had anxiety for about eight years now. I tried to get help when I was younger but I was told it was just part of growing up. I lost faith after that. I grew up with my nana and granddad and we all knew there was a lot more to it. Anyway, it got a lot worse and we ended up getting the crisis team out. They said it was drugs that were doing it to me but it wasn’t. Then I completely lost faith. 

But I’m turning a corner. I’m doing better for myself. I find that forcing myself into uncomfortable situations helps, where I’m feeling on edge but I manage to sort of get through it. I prove to myself I can do it and then I feel stronger afterwards. There are still times when I have to go home. I can’t be in a room with too many people, for example, otherwise I’m extremely uncomfortable. But as long as I’m out in the open space and know I’ve got somewhere I can go to that helps. 

I would love to go and finish my level three plumbing at college. Hopefully I could have my own business one day because it would be very hard with my criminal record for me to find employment. I’ve got customers who help me and motivate me. Sometimes it can be as easy as a chat or if I’m feeling down they might ask if I want a cup of tea.

I’ve been brought up old-fashioned. My nana and granddad believed in firm but fair. Unfortunately my granddad died, and my nana wouldn’t have been able to cope with how I was, so I don’t have contact with her any more. But I’ve got my manners and a lot of people who talk to me respect that. It gives me a bit more confidence.

Image: Konrad S Leader

Bus Station, Middlesbrough, UK

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