People need help and housing, not being called a criminal
“I grew up in Scotland, but I was in and out of children’s homes since I was ten. My nan brought me up before then because my mum couldn’t cope, but when she had a stroke, my mum put me in care. When I left care at fifteen I didn’t have anywhere to go, and that’s when I first ended up on the streets.
I travelled about a bit, and then I started to get involved in drugs. If I could tell my eighteen-year old self something it would be to never have started all that, but it helped me forget about all the problems in my family. It blocked it all out, but it also makes you stop caring about anything, even yourself. I ended up in jail a few times. Shoplifting mainly. Just things I had to do because I was on the streets, but I never got support when I left jail. I’d just go back on the streets again,
I lost my leg about two and half years ago through injecting. I burst an artery and it had to be amputated. But even after that I went straight back onto the streets. I tried going back to Scotland to sort things out with my mum and my family but that never worked out, so I came to Blackpool in April 2018 with one of mates to start again. I’ve been to the council but all they offered me was a travel warrant back to Scotland because I had no local connection. They said I couldn’t get any help for six months. I even tried to get onto the local addiction service, but I couldn’t get on their books either. They didn’t offer any other help at all. There’s nothing for me in Scotland anymore, so I just had to get on with it on my own.
The BID team, (Business Improvement District – private security paid for by local businesses) and the police were on me straight away when I got here. It was them who first served me the Vagrancy Act papers. Sometimes they give you a bit of advice about where to go, like soup kitchens and things, but otherwise nothing else.
Since coming to Blackpool I’ve now had thirteen charges under the Vagrancy Act, and I’ve also been taken to court twice for it. Getting the papers just made me angry. They just come up and tell you to move, but I don’t know where they expect you to go? Five of those warnings I was even asleep when they gave them to me, so how could that have been for begging? I just woke up to find it on my sleeping bag.
It’s only since the 2000’s since I heard of them using the Vagrancy Act. When I was young, they’d move you on, but you wouldn’t be prosecuted for being homeless like they’re doing now. It’s not a nice feeling at all. You’re the lowest you can get anyway and then they’re telling you you’re getting done for sleeping rough, or even if someone just offers you food or a coffee. ‘Sitting in a public place gathering money for alms,’ they called it.
Half the homeless in town have been given Vagrancy Act papers now, and most of them have been fined about £100 and then given a banning order from the town centre. If they get caught coming back, they get done again and could go to jail, but that means all those people can’t get into town to use the few local services there are for rough sleepers. When the SWEP (severe weather emergency protocol) came into place during the winter those people couldn’t get into town to use the emergency shelters because of those banning orders.
Luckily, I met Chris and Mark from a local charity outreach team last October, and they told me about a temporary shelter they’d opened over Christmas. Then they supported me into a shared flat with our own tenancy and everything. That’s when I got clean by myself. I gave it all up on my own in the end. Five months ago. And that’s all thanks to them for believing in me. I’m still not getting any support from the council, it’s all through the charity.
Since then I’ve been going out every week with the other volunteers, trying to help other people like they helped me. When I was on the street, I got more out of people talking to me than giving me things. It made me feel like a human being again. Just that few minutes of someone speaking with you can make a big difference, and I feel like I can connect with them on their level.
The most important thing for me now is staying clean and to start living a normal life. I’m trying to give back by coming out volunteering, and when I’ve got my prosthetic leg, I want to learn to drive, then start a catering course, and then get my own place. I’m also starting to sort things out with my family too. I last spoke with my mum a couple of weeks ago, and that’s beginning to get better. But that’s all because I’m housed and clean now. If I didn’t have this support around me now, I’d probably be dead. People need help and housing, not being called a criminal.”