The warm weather has finally left us and the cold autumn winds are closing in. Pulling my coat up around my neck, I make my way towards Marble Arch. I stop on the way to grab some hot chocolate, but it’s not for me. I carry on walking, and that’s when I see Delcie sitting near Marble Arch tube station by himself. I sit down next to him on the pavement, hand him the drink and ask how his day has been.
“It’s been great, thank you very much for asking.” He smiles.
Delcie is 49 years old and he is homeless. He has been living on the streets for 7 months. I noticed him sitting in the same spot two days in a row. I also noticed how many people rushed past him without even glancing in his direction, as if he wasn’t there. Delcie doesn’t beg for money, he simply sits on the steps wrapped in a thin, filthy blanket that doesn’t appear to offer much warmth. If I could feel the cold through my coat, I could only begin to imagine what this poor man must feel.
I remember a middle school teacher telling us a story in an assembly about a pupil that he used to teach. After his parents divorced, he and his mother ran into severe financial difficulty. When my teacher and his wife discovered the poor boy and his mother sleeping on the streets, they took them into their house. They gave them food, clean clothes and a bed for the night, and ensured that they received help from a catholic charity. It is one of a few school assemblies that I remember.
“I’ve noticed that you’ve been sitting here in the same spot for a few days now… How long have you been on the streets for?” I ask him.
“7 months now. I used to live in a bedsit in Lewisham before. I was kicked out for making trouble, but it wasn’t my fault. My toilet downstairs was broken so I asked to use the one belonging to the woman who lived upstairs. She let me go to the bathroom and that’s when I saw needles and syringes hidden behind the toilet cistern.
“The woman had a little girl who was 3 years old and I couldn’t believe how careless she could be. It reminded me of my childhood. I tried to explain to the woman that this was dangerous and illegal and she shouldn’t put her child at risk like that, but she was foreign and couldn’t understand English very well.
“She started shouting and pushed me out of her room. I called the police and they asked if I had any proof. Of course, I didn’t. I told them to go to the house and look. ‘Leave it to us’ they said. I told my landlord and he went off on one and told me I had to leave. So I’ve been sleeping rough since then. ”
“For 7 months straight? Everyday in the cold?”
“Well, there’s a hostel near here that gives you a bed for 4 days, but only if they’ve seen you sleeping rough for 8-10 days.”
“Wow. You said that finding the needles reminded you of your childhood…?”
“Yeah, my mum was a heroin addict and an alcoholic. There were needles all over our house. I always thought she had diabetes but when I was eleven I found out she was actually using drugs. I grew up in Manchester and I remember being offered drugs at the age of 9. My dad left my mum when I was really young, so I didn’t know who he was. My mum had a different guy every week and they were never nice people. The drink and the drugs made her really abusive. After my dad left, I think I was the only person she could take her anger out on. My neighbours were really nice to me though.
“When you live in that kind of unstable environment, school is the last thing on your mind. I used to skive a lot but my neighbours helped me with my reading and writing. When I was eleven, they told the authorities and I was put into care, but I kept running away to find my mum. She was the only family I had. She disowned me at 16, when I told her I was gay. When I was 17, I decided to move to London.”
A woman passing by hands Delcie a small gift bag. “This is for you,” she smiles, “I don’t wear aftershave.”
“Thank you!” Delcie laughs, “Ooh! Burberry! My partner won’t be able to keep his hands off me tonight!”
I can’t help but laugh. “How long have you two been together?”
“About 8 years now. I met him in a homeless shelter.”
“Do you only live off what people give you?” I ask.
“No, I’m lucky. I get £41.50 every 2 weeks from the government. Now, I know what you must be thinking. If I’m getting benefits, then I must be able to save or pay for rent. But it works out as £20.75 a week. That’s barely enough to cover my food and maybe a bed for the night in a shelter. And I can only collect the money because I use my friend’s address for it. I know many homeless people who can’t even do that, because they don’t know anyone with a fixed address. They live only off people’s donations.”
“So, why can’t you live with your friend?”
“He has 3 little kids in a bedsit. There isn’t enough room. I’m not on the street because I spend all my money on booze and drugs. That’s not what it’s like.”
“Have you ever thought about getting back in touch with your mum, or even finding any other family?”
“Yes, but there’s no point. They don’t want to know me because I’m gay. My mum is in prison for fraud. The only family I have are the other people living on the streets. It’s sad and scary because I know three or four homeless people who have died alone. Nobody cares about them. We face so much violence and prejudice.
“Only last month I was trying to sleep here, when a group of lads poured petrol on my blanket and set it on fire. I managed to put it out but it really upset me. They spat at me and yelled at me to get a job. But I can’t, I don’t have any qualifications at the moment. Once my partner and I get ourselves sorted with somewhere to live, I will go back to school so I can get the right qualifications to get a job. I’d love to work with old people, I think old people are lovely. They tell great stories. I’d like to work with an old people’s charity so I can give back to the community. I’m also really good at poetry. I could be a poet as well!” He smiles.
It is too easy to make assumptions about the people we meet everyday. A small act of kindness goes a very long way, so please think twice the next time you pass somebody like Delcie in the street. I can’t imagine living on the street years from now, and I’m sure that, at the age of 16, Delcie didn’t either.
Image sources: heidibay.wordpress.com, emiliab9291.wordpress.com, thisislondon.co.uk
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