(To coincide with World Mental Health Day and World Homeless Day (both on 10th October) I have turned over my blog to clients to share their experiences. The third contribution is from Chris Ellis)
My experience of being on the streets was a strange one, sorry, a bit like saying chocolate taste’s sweet. For the five or six years before I was homeless I worked in a pub. One of Brighton’s more outrageous places rather than just a boozer.
Over this time I got to know the locals, talked with them about their lives, their jobs and their relationships. In that time, at any given moment the knowledge I had on their private lives could have earned me money. If I had any inclination towards blackmail; luckily I didn’t, I’m just trying to illustrate how you can get to know people.
When I became homeless, and here I take full responsibility for my dilemma at that time. I was an alcoholic, I had been offered on more than one occasion help with my drinking. But I was in that delusional stage of addiction.
The one that say’s “Of course I don’t have a problem I could give up tomorrow.”
My drinking got out of control, and before I knew it I was on the streets, alone, just like too many people today.
It seemed at the time like I was in some sort of strange time warp, when people walked past me all they saw was me in that moment. No idea of my past and absolutely no interest in my future.
I had become one of the last sections of society that comedians can laugh at without fear of retribution. So what about those people I had served over all those years.
Even now, when I have my own place and I no longer drink it is still one of the worst memories of my time on the street.
Seeing a familiar face who just a short time before I was serving a drink to, helping them on that short journey to inebriation. I can still remember watching people who I had laughed with just weeks before walk on by.
See the momentary recognition turn to embarrassment, to disgust, to whatever would distract them. Watch as their eyes would dance this way and that so that they would not make contact with mine. Suddenly being made to feel like a nobody, a no-one a none person.
It made what was to me an indescribably horrific situation so much worse. Forget the cold and the wet and the fear of trying to survive on the streets. The feeling of being less than human compounded by the fact that faces I was familiar with had no time for me. No words, no warmth, more than anything else I went through it has affected me the most.
I don’t hate those people, I don’t blame them, they were just reacting the way society has taught them. What I hate is the way it left me feeling, the way it left me for a while unable to trust people.
Not wanting to get close to others, not wanting ever to see those looks of contempt when they could be bothered to look at me from people I once considered friends.
- Chris Ellis