News ID: 261262
Published: 0241 GMT November 08, 2019

Meet Tom, just one of 320,000 who are homeless in UK

Meet Tom, just one of 320,000 who are homeless in UK
sky.com

By Nick Martin*

It is 6:00 p.m., and the rain is falling heavily in Weston-super-Mare.

The UK’s seaside town is winding down after the summer season.

But for some of the town's residents, not much will change as winter nights draw in.

Kelly Lewis is driving into the town center with a car boot full of hot food — her windscreen wipers on full speed and the glare of the oncoming traffic blinds her at times.

She helps a charity that feeds the homeless.

Gathered together on the corner of the main street are around 20 homeless men. They know Kelly is coming.

"I've been doing this for three years now," said Kelly, who has two children of her own, a foster child and a grandchild at home.

"I just wanted to give something back. Some of the people I meet I feel so sorry for.

"There's this one guy who I always think about. He's called Tom and he's disabled. He's got no one."

At least 320,000 people are homeless in Britain, according to research by the housing charity Shelter.

This amounts to a year-on-year increase of 13,000 — or a four percent rise — despite government pledges to tackle the crisis.

The estimate suggests that one in 200 people are homeless nationally — either living on the street or in temporary accommodation.

Tackling homelessness is a key election promise for all political parties ahead of the December 12 election.

Labor say they want to end homelessness within five years if they win the election, while the Conservatives say they want to tackle homelessness by investing over £1 billion by 2020.

For the homeless people of Weston, a delivery of piping hot fish and chips with mushy peas is the only meal they have had all day.

In the corner, dressed all in black and with a bobble hat on, is Tom — the young man Kelly spoke about on her way into town.

His face is weather-beaten and his hands are blue with the cold. He's got a tiny cigarette between two fingers and he's got a gentle West Country accent.

"I was born with spina bifida. There's nothing I can do about it. I've got it for life. But it means I struggle to walk," Tom tells me.

He tells me his mom could not cope, so they fell out and he was forced to leave home.

Tom rented a house but "made some bad choices" and ended up getting thrown out after growing cannabis plants in the back room.

"It's my biggest regret, but I can't do anything about it now," he says.

The more I chat to Tom, the more I realize how vulnerable he is. He has a major disability and does not seem to have much support.

To make matters worse he's double incontinent, which means he struggles to stay clean and often cannot get to a toilet.

He shows me the inside of his rucksack, which is stuffed full of adult disposable nappies, which he gets from a local charity.

A volunteer at the local night shelter tells me he cannot stay overnight "because of ongoing hygiene issues."

"It's not my fault," he says quietly.

I ask how he gets by day-to-day.

"It's difficult when places close because I can't find a loo."

He says he hopes to have a shower soon but does not know when.

Another volunteer tells me Tom should be "prioritized" and put into assisted living where he can be cared for properly. But because he is homeless "that's not an option."

Tom said, "I had a social worker, but I lost touch with them. It's getting harder and harder. Some days I wake up and wonder whether I can do this anymore."

The rain starts to fall harder now and Tom says he must walk to his "stash" and settle down for the night.

He stumbles and swerves his way up a dimly lit street and vanishes into a back alley.

A minute later he emerges with a soaking wet sleeping bag and a small red cushion.

"I sleep round the back of the shopping center most nights, but the security guards move me on at 6:00 a.m. because they say I'm blocking the door."

He turns a corner and walks past the amusement arcade and makes a right turn. He is now soaked by the rain, and so are all of his belongings.

Tom arrives at a doorway, set back just enough from the road that it provides some shelter from the downpour.

He spreads the wet sleeping bag neatly onto the ground and positions his cushion against the wall. He looks like he's summoning the energy to sit down before he begins to lower himself onto the ground.

His face contorts and his eye screw up. He is breathless.

His foot slips, but he steadies himself.

"My right leg is really bad now and my back is so painful I can't sleep."

Some teenagers walk past and laugh at him.

"That's life," he says.

 

* This article, by people and politics correspondent Nick Martin, was first published in sky.com.

 

 

 

 

 

   
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