A tale so sad I cried writing it down


Brian not in photo



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.


Brian not in photo

About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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8 Responses to A tale so sad I cried writing it down

  1. John Mather says:

    Henry for many years I funded a soup kitchen which appeased my conscience to some extent Then I found an ex colleague in a similar state to the victim you describe

    I gave him time found him a job and bridged the time to become established that was 6 years ago he now has dignity and a bridge when he slips backwards

    I didn’t know what the answer is but one on one we can make a difference and the cost is in time the money is insignificant and only part of the solution

    Adopt one

  2. Syed Danish Ali says:

    this is so sad and tragic. i wish i could help brian.

  3. henry tapper says:

    Me too Syed – but one thing I’m sure of, I will never walk on by someone on the street without at least talking and shaking hands. The Crisis motto this year is “homelessness stops here” and I’d like to think it will stop for Brian.

  4. Henry, this is loaded with ‘ifs’ but….

    If £148.13 is his only income then he also qualifies for

    £7.47 Guarantee Pension Credit and £8.59 Savings Pension Credit.

    If he can find somewhere to rent he will also qualify for the maximum help with his rent. There are some limits to the amount that he could claim, depending on where he lives. For privately rented accommodation the most Housing Benefit he could get would be £260.64 in the highest rent areas in the UK. Social tenants can get up to all their rent met. Similarly he will qualify for Council Tax Reduction. You can get Housing Benefit for hostels and B&B as well

    You say that he’s mentally ill. If his illness means that he is assessed as needing care, not necessarily physical but also with supervision to avoid substantial danger to himself or others, then he may qualify for Attendance Allowance. That means things like personal care, medication, thinking, communicating or socialising (crudely, 3 or more times a day is the practical test). Supervision means someone keeping an eye on him through the day to avoid a serious-ish risk. It doesn’t mean that it happens, it means that it should happen.

    At night it’s the same but it needs to happen once or for longer than 20 minutes.

    Claiming this is a difficult process and filling the forms in properly is best left to a specialist. Most LAs will have people in their social services departments who regularly do this.

    It’s paid at two rates, £55.10 or £82.30 a week, and the money doesn’t affect the amount of other benefits. In fact getting Attendance Allowance increases other benefits, because it recognises extra needs.

    If he was to get Attendance Allowance then he’d get:

    £69.32 Guarantee Pension Credit and £8.59 Savings Pension Credit

    It’s very likely that he’s not getting the benefits he’s entitled to, about 40% of pensioners don’t get their Pension Credit and somewhere over half don’t get Attendance Allowance.

  5. Brigid Benson says:

    Good to hear yr compassion. Only political change can provide practical solutions. The media like dramatic stories but rarely back or approve of those who offer them. Private landlords don’t like renting to poor people or older people on low incomes/benefits. Unless UK brings back more council or social housing into the mix, re- creates a better balance between public & private providers – no hope for your Crisis friend or the growing millions on poverty wages as well the mentally ill, fragile, elderly etc. Only the Labour Party, under current leadership, has pledged to house the homeless and kickstart a big social/affordable housing program to tackle housing crisis, bring down cost of renting & buying. Fantastic for millions & for business. Unless the mainstream press,give positive coverage to practical policies or the political providers – Corbyn & team, then I see no hope but only grief. the previous incumbents who lost the last election, sold public housing & failed to replace, remain a part of the problem. Volunteering, individual acts of generosity can help one to one and comfort to the giver. however the wider problem of both housing & mental illness needs broader political strategies.

  6. Pingback: 8 Things only Hostel Life can teach you - SVS Shouts

  7. henry tapper says:

    Reblogged this on The Vision of the Pension Playpen and commented:

    One year on and I’m spending Christmas with my family. Crisis are doing the great things they do every year.

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