Billy, I have just sat with you on a town centre square in wintry North England and, over a takeout coffee, you told me your story. How you got to be in this position, travelling from town to town and living from day to day. As we started talking, my legs began aching as I was crouching down, so you offered me the smaller of your two rucksacks to sit on – this was a kind gesture, thank you. I took my place and listened to you.
You told me how, having grown up in a travelling community, you were rejected by them once you fell for a girl outside of this community. You told me how it would be dangerous for you to go back to them, and you would have to literally physically fight your way back in. You said that you recognised that their way of life was not for you and you wanted out. You got out but, with certainty, there is no going back.
But, even though you try, you can’t move on either. You can’t move on because you were never registered anywhere. According to authorities, you don’t exist. You have no birth certificate, no national insurance number and no history of address. You can’t get a job because you have no proof of experience, even though you have done so many different types of work, and you were good at them at well. You can’t keep dry in this weather because there is nowhere to wash and dry your wet clothes that you know of, and you couldn’t afford it anyway. You can’t keep as clean as you would like because when you try to wash in public toilets you get told to get out, and anyway, you feel ashamed to have to be doing that in public.
Tonight you could stay at a fairly cheap room you have found, just so that you can wash and dry your clothes in preparation for another day tomorrow. Your aim for today is to try to get the money together to do that. You told me that you are not interested in drugs and alcohol and that’s not what you spend money on; I guess that is what people usually think that see someone like you, so you felt you had to say it.
To me you do exist though Billy. I saw and heard you this evening quite clearly, and because I did, I will try to do something that might change things for you, even if just by a little bit. Since talking to you, I have contacted and heard back from a local launderette that would be willing to offer a scheme that I proposed to them. People can buy a voucher in that launderette for someone on the streets like you, and you can go there and get your clothes washed and dried. It’s not much, but it’s a start.
Thanks for the hug you gave me when we parted, and thanks for telling me your story; you have given me the resolve to make your voice heard and to remind people that you do exist. Just like me, you are human, and you deserve the chance at some dignity at least. Fingers crossed for the launderette plan.