I had my Christmas lunch with Brian.
Brian is homeless. He is 69. He will not use hostels or night-shelters as this would mean mixing with people who drink. He does not drink as his family was a victim of an abusive, alcoholic father.
He eats carefully, he cannot digest rich food as his body gets so little of it. He eats plums which he meticulously de-stones. He does not complain, except about the Salvation Army who he says do too little to prevent drunkenness in their hostels.
Brian tells me that because he refuses hostels, he finds the normal channels to having a home – are unavailable.
Because he will not go through the hostel system, he is outside the reach of social services. Hi main link to big society is the £148.13 he receives each week as his old age pension, for Brian has a pretty well full NI history and was, till 7 years ago, a householder. He kept the bank account when he was evicted. He was evicted because he could not pay both his rent and his mother’s rent (after his mother died).
I ask him what he wants, he tells me he wants a room to rent which would not be taken away from him so long as he paid the rent.
Brian could afford a modest rent but he cannot afford a deposit. He would need about £500 more than he ever has to go into private rented accommodation.
Ironically, were he of fixed abode, he would more readily qualify for disability and housing benefits. He smiles ruefully when I ask about work. Ruefully – not reproachfully.
For there is another side to Brian that makes it impossible for him to hold down a job. He is mentally ill. He has been sectioned this year after setting fire to himself. He has a history of suicide attempts.
He is a very neat , articulate and softly spoken man, but he is extremely ill.
He shows me a letter from a psychologist explaining his situation , asking that someone did something to help him back into a home.
I only had a lunch with Brian, I only saw one side to him, but what I saw made me cry and is making me cry writing this. Brian has not given up on life, if I could show you how he looked at lunch you would see a man who is trying to survive living rough on the streets of London than share rooms with drunks.
The Crisis site I was at does not allow alcohol through the gates and that is why Brian feels safe there.
Why do I live in a society with the means to house Brian, but will allow him back on the streets later this week? It is wrong. I will see Brian again the day after tomorrow and again the day after that. But I don’t know if I will be able to help him.