Back in October 2012 I set out to photograph some of the homeless that live on the streets of Manchester. It was early one cold September morning whilst making my way to the train station. A homeless man (Ashely), wrapped in a sleeping bag sat against a wall as the world woke up around him. He looked cold. I was cold in my jacket, after the luxury of a night in a warm house, in my own bed.
I found Ashley in the same place as I had two mornings before (Picadilly, Manchester. Where I brought him a drink on my way to the train station). He had been out on the streets all night, where he struggles to sleep and keep himself warm.I spoke to him before taking his photograph where he told me that because he is originally from Southampton he cannot find refuge in homeless shelters in Manchester.A series of failed relationships have left Ashley homeless. He was sent to prison on August 18th 2012 until September 10th for begging on the streets.
I stopped at the next coffee shop a little up the road and took a hot chocolate back to the man on the street. I approached him with the drink. At first he seemed to flinch, but soon accepted the cup, clutching it tightly and wrapping his hands around it. That was my good deed for the day. Apart from I couldn’t push the fact that he will be out on the streets again. It ate away at me. That hot drink was only a momentarily and brief act of kindness by the public. In the grand scheme of things it solved nothing. Homelessness takes more than an act of kindness to solve both physically and mentally.
In that brief act, a project was born. People looked at me as I handed this man a drink. I could see they were questioning what and why I was doing this. And since, every time I have sat and talked to a homeless person, people stare and scowl as they pass us by on the pavement. I can’t understand why. I want to bring these people who live their lives out on the streets to the same level as you and I. On the streets I have observed people ignoring the presence of myself and the homeless I have been talking to. Eye contact never seems to be on the passer-by engender. Because in the split second that eye contact could be made, they know that the homeless person would have got them, stirring up emotions and feelings towards them. So its best to pretend that they are not there at all. Or thats the way it seems and the way in which I see it.
If I can change 1 in 10 peoples perception of the homeless through these images, then thats a small success.
I’ve been told that addiction to alcohol and drugs brings a release from the pain and memories that brought about these circumstances. Most said they would rather not be that way, but it helps to numb the existence that they live. Homelessness becomes a vicious circle that then becomes harder and harder to break. “In the face of impossible living conditions, and the only focus of each day is survival. The days become weeks and month, and the very idea of re-entering mainstream society is put firmly to the back of their minds.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/housing-network/2012/dec/31/homelessness-rough-sleeping-in-winter) Many of them seemed like they just wanted someone to talk to and listen for a few minutes. Is that so bad? Maybe next time you see someone on the street, find that change in your pocket, buy a coffee for them and find a few minutes in your busy schedule to listen to what they have to say. I did, and it changed my entire perspective on the issue.
I came across Christopher in the same place as I did Ashley when I was last photographing the homeless out in Machester. It seems to be a reliable spot, with the volume of people walking past both to the station and into the city. He told me that he had been homeless since August 9th 2011.
In my brief experience with the homeless, I’ve heard some truly painful and heartbreaking stories from the individuals that agreed to be photographed. It didn’t take me long to shake off any preconceptions about the homeless once I had sat and listened for a few times. Next time you pass a homeless person in the street, consider how lucky you really are to live the life that you lead. These homeless people live a life of fear and pain. It’s not the life they have chosen for themselves, but its the life they have been dealt and have to lead.