I sit in a huddle of blankets and rugs with my dog outside Sainsbury’s. I’m sheltered from the elements here.
People rush by, avoiding looking at me. Even those who throw me a few coins don’t want to actually see me.
Sitting here all day is a bit like a job. It’s how I earn a living. If I get enough money I’ll be able to afford a hostel tonight – if they still have a spare bed.
Most people assume I’m on drugs. Some occasionally offer to buy me a cup of tea or a sandwich, rather than give me money, thinking I’ll spend the money on drugs.
I do use drugs but so might you if you were in my circumstances. Once you’re homeless and living on the street with nothing, you need a bit of oblivion.
Well, perhaps I was already using drugs and that contributed to my situation but I’m hardly going to get clean now, am I? And the money I get will buy my next fix – that’s my main priority. If you’ve ever experienced cold turkey you’d know why.
The dog isn’t actually mine. I borrow him for the day. People take more kindly to me with him by my side. His owner is out at work, so I’m company for him. I drop him off home at the end of my shift.
He’s called Roy and is a mongrel but quite handsome, with a white streak on his chest and hairy ears. He’s appealing and I’m sometimes offered dog food or dog treat for him.
One woman wanted to drop off a big stockpile of dog food she had, as her dog had died. I had to confess he wasn’t mine and gave her Roy’s owner’s phone number. I don’t know if she dropped it off or not, probably not when she found out Roy wasn’t homeless.
At least she spoke to me, recognised me as a fellow human being. I’m always grateful when people make eye contact. It makes me feel less of an outcast.
I’m one of the many who have fallen through the so-called net but very few people ask me how I come to be in these circumstances.
Is it that they fear that ‘There but for the grace of God go I’ or is it that they just wish to distance themselves from me, as if my homelessness is catching.
Whatever the reason, it adds to my distress. But I’ve been homeless for so long and do have other homeless acquaintances that I regularly cross paths with, in the hostels and on the streets, so take some comfort from them that this a typical experience. In fact, as I said, people are nicer to me because of Roy.
If Roy were my dog, I wouldn’t be able to stay in the hostel, as they don’t accept pets, but not a lot of people know that.
Roy brings me a lot of comfort and contentment, he’s my closest friend and he doesn’t look down on me. And I’m grateful his owner trusts me to look after him for the day. He’s an old mate of mine from before I was homeless and at least he’s helping me out by loaning me Roy.
He makes it clear though, that I can’t sleep on his sofa. No matter the weather or my circumstances, loaning me Roy for the day is as far as it goes. I don’t ever push it with him, as I don’t want to risk losing my daily companion.
I no doubt save him having to pay a dog walker to take Roy out, but we don’t ever mention that or him paying me. Having Roy five days a week is a win-win situation.