Jay, Coventry

I had a conversation today about how I’ve not really had much luck in speaking to the homeless through the Cyrenians charity in Coventry, so I’m thinking of a way I could communicate homelessness in a different way through my photography. I was thinking about where I have seen homeless people and taking photographs of where they stay or ‘call home’ I suppose. It made me think of Matthew who used to sit at the bottom of the stairs of he underpass near the train station; however, the council changed the pathways so that the subway was filled in over the summer, taking away this patch from him. I walked over there today with my Pentax 35mm colour camera to photograph what it looks like now. I need to finish my roll of film before I can see the images; I photographed how there used to be a painted blue line for pedestrians for follow to get to the station and with the new construction it has not partly gone. That and I photographed the sign post which has ‘underpass to’ erased from the sign to the city centre. I felt that the absence of these features is like the absence of the homeless from this area and the removal of a home/patch.

However, as I walked back, I saw a rough sleeper who must have just sat down while I was taking photos. I walked past and heard him bless a man nearby who gave him money. Believing he was friendly (I think I’ve seen him before) I walked to Subway, bought a cup of tea, grabbed a couple of sugars and headed back.

He was very grateful for the hot drink and I asked to sit down next to him on the floor, cross legged. He introduced himself as Jay. He seemed lonely as he was initially the one asking me questions about what I do, assuming I was a student already. I told him I was doing a project on rough sleepers and he seemed nicely surprised. Naturally I then started asking questions and he was happy to honestly talk to me about it.

I found out that he has been homeless on and off for two years, but has been sleeping rough solidly for the last six months. He lost his job from the council after he continued to drive after a drink-driving ban, increasing his fine, wiping his savings and ultimately became homeless. He says he does not like to depend on other people settling on sofas. We spoke about the charities and he said that to them he is not a ‘priority’ because he doesn’t have children. I found this comment interesting as he feels angry with not having help.

Despite being quite angry, he told me he does not have an alcohol addiction, but he does smoke.

I asked him about where he sleeps and where in the city he sits: he told me he tries to sleep in flat block stairwells, specifically one near Sainsbury’s.

I asked him whether he feels safe on the streets and how it is; he said “you know what it really pisses me off. A woman told a man not to give me money because she said I would spend it on cider. I don’t drink. […] I get people shouting and throwing things at me.” He said yesterday he was abused on the street.

As I sat with him he told me that he has been arrested for begging a couple of times, not long after saying this, community police officers headed our way and we parted. It was really nice to actually speak to a rough sleeper; however, with my time limit, I am going to try and speak to more homeless people. But I am going to shoot landscapes of where I know they stay including Cyrenians.

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