Tom Cash, 52, Bonn Square, Oxford

"I'd hit rock bottom but I've been given another chance in life"

Six months ago I overdosed on Brighton beach and I was found half-dead. I was really bad on heroin, crack and the drink and I used to go begging to make my money every day. After that I came back to Oxford and I’m better, I’m clean now. I’d hit rock bottom but I’ve been given another chance in life.

I don’t remember the overdose, it’s a total blank. I remember being in hospital – I was there for about a month. When I came back to Oxford I was staying with a friend but he was doing too many drugs and I knew I couldn’t stay there. That’s when Anna and Liz at The Big Issue helped me get a place. Without them I wouldn’t have coped. They took me down to the council and helped me sort myself out.

I started doing drugs about 30 years ago but I was clean when I was living in Ireland for 15 years. But then my mum died, and my cousin took his own life, so I went back on the drugs. It was just too much and I couldn’t cope. My escape was drugs and alcohol. I didn’t care about myself and I had no respect for other people. I’m a qualified block paver and slab worker and I used to be very good at it but that all went to pot when I went back on drugs.

I’m part of the traveller community and I’m proud

Now I love selling The Big Issue. It gives me confidence and I’m part of society again. Being in Oxford I sell to people of all nationalities. Most of the people I meet on the street are polite. Sometimes they ignore you but I don’t let it get me down. Other times they say, “Get a fucking job”. I just say, “Have a nice afternoon” and it winds them up because they haven’t got to me.

I live in my own flat. I see old friends who are still using and I wouldn’t disregard them but I’ve told them that if I can do it they can do it. I’ve had people tell me they’re clean, but they’re not. They always give me a pat on the back though, so I’m a bit of a role model. Before, I wasn’t looking after myself properly. I wasn’t shaving or washing. I was just too interested in drugs and drink. There’s a big difference in me now. That’s down to The Big Issue.

I’m originally from Derry but I was raised in east London. I’m a traveller by blood. Over here you get called names, people think you’re a scumbag. But I’m part of that community and I’m proud to be what I am. I just take one day at a time and whatever crosses my path I try to deal with in a civil manner. I see myself as a recovering addict now so for me it feels nice to be nice.

People person… 

I just enjoy people. I like being back in the real world seeing how real people live.

If I won the lottery… 

I’d make sure the homeless people had somewhere to live. I’d build a big hostel, somewhere that people could go and have their drink and not get into trouble for it.

On my pitch…

I’m here Monday to Saturday from around 9:30am until 4pm

Photo: Monika Tomicek