A tale of the city: the homeless at night

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Fabian Collier recounts an evening of stories of the homeless in Bristol

Well, another two weeks another two times helping feed the homeless, times of highs and lows, of witnessing man’s inhumanity to man, as well as small moments of great hope. After feeding the 50 or so regulars who stand politely in line we get underway on a long route through Cabot Circus, Broadmead, Corn Street, the Waterfront, Park Street and back.

We had barely left Cabot Circus when we encountered the first good story of the night involving Tom, a long-time homeless man, by no means atypical given the usual mistrust of the homeless and the lack of empathy he inexplicably faces on a regular basis. He was buzzing with pride as he told us of his new job at a Pâtisserie. This was with an old friend whose son had died from a brain hemorrhage.

we were bound to encounter tragedy and predictably we did

Raw with grief, he had encountered Tom by chance and in so doing had given him a chance to claw up from the gutter. A good man Tom, who, like almost every homeless individual, just wants to contribute and be part of something, not left floundering on the edges of society. So Tom, newly employed and recently homed in a cosy little unit, had a broad smile on his face as we handed him food and hot coffee. And his friend has a great employee.

Outside the Hippodrome, we then met Martin the owner of a construction business. He bemoaned the casual excesses and extravagant spending of the wealthy. He felt guilt at how much he had spent at the theatre, admitted how a holiday could run to many thousands. He stuffed £70 in our tin, looked at us, and turned to the homeless individual huddled in his blankets beside him, whereupon he offered him 10 nights in his home, a gesture born of right time, right place.

Of course we were bound to encounter tragedy and predictably we did, just moments later.Turning a corner we found Dan, a kind, dog-owning musician with a scuffed guitar and a dream; smiling despite his awful story. He told us of his brutal experiences of Bristol’s apparently mean streets, and how recently he had been attacked by students.

These brave souls had cornered him, had held him in a headlock, while they slashed at him and his dog. Dan shielded his dog before himself, and then was robbed, making his already difficult life that much worse. Didn’t think this needed to be said, but don’t attack or rob homeless people. Do try to help them though.

Of course I can’t end on that, so I’ll finish with a touching moment involving Mary. A small thing for many, done without thought, to buy a card, but for people like Mary there isn’t much in the way of spare change. She wrote and sealed in an envelope a birthday card for a fellow homeless person; we went with her to sing him happy birthday. She edged towards him the card and a little cake with a match standing in for a candle. Initially retreating into his blankets and reluctant to face us, he needed to be coaxed out, and his face lit up to be remembered.

The time we spent feeding the homeless this past fortnight had us encountering frustrating and heart-breaking tragedy and the undeserved ire from people they rely on each day. Sometimes ruthlessly dismissed, or even attacked such as that wonderful, dog-owning musician suffered, they face increasing hostility and indifference, all against overwhelming positivity and up-lifting grace and surprising but welcome good spirits.

Featured image: Unsplash/Ev


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