James has been staying with Glass Door since January, but spent two months on the streets: “You tend to stay awake most of the night, then, come the dawn, that’s when the fatigue sets in. Then it doesn’t matter what the temperature is, you’re going to fall asleep anyway.” Words and pictures by James Hopkirk.

April 17, 2017

Excerpt from James Hopkirk's blog: Lambeth: Living with the cuts:

James is smartly dressed in a shirt and tie, smiley and chatty. He looks far removed from a stereotypical vision of a homeless person. He’s 56, and started sleeping rough in November last year.

“I was sleeping in bus shelters, bus stations, parks – anywhere dark where no-one would see me,” he says. ”Sometimes at night it got so cold that the best thing to do was not to sleep, but just walk.”

James’ background is in transport. A couple of years ago he had an accident and broke his neck and back. He was lucky to survive. “That’s when my problems started,” he says. “There was a long recovery, but I got back into work quickly. A bit too quickly, because I put myself back in hospital – twice.”

Injured and unemployed, the bills started to build up. “It was a domino effect,” he says. “Main thing was not being able to pay the rent. I didn’t want to go to the social, but eventually I had to. But it takes so long to get things sorted that by then it was too late. Eventually I just packed my bags and was gone. Bad decision when you think about it, but I just wanted a bit of peace and quiet. I thought I could sort myself out later.”

From late November to early January he moved around, rarely sleeping in the same place twice. “I did my washing and shaving in a park, or in McDonald’s,” he says. “You get a cup of water then go into a cubicle – it’s like a bed bath in hospital. You make sure your feet are clean – that way your socks last a bit longer. You adapt.”

I ask what it felt like that first night when he left home. “It was quite surreal, actually,” he says. “It was getting a bit chilly in the early hours, so I walked from North-West London to South-West London. It was a long walk, but there was something calm about it. The harsh reality sets in the next day and the day after.”

He explains how he learnt to survive in those early days. “I had a little bit of money left, and I was budgeting on about £1 a day,” he says. “I could get a tin of fish and some bread for that. I was looking for bargains at the supermarkets – they do late night throw outs where they reduce everything. But I missed tea, that was a big one.”

When he first went to see the council back in Wandsworth to ask for help, they initially didn’t believe he was homeless because he looked so clean. They had no bed for him, but they introduced him to Glass Door, who found a place for him. “It pains me to sleep on the floor like this, with my injuries – but I’m very grateful,” he says. “It’s much nicer than the pavement. Warmer, safer and dry.”

He says the social aspect is important as well. James says:

It’s lonely when you’re on the streets. You feel you’re losing contact with the world. No communication really at all, except maybe if you go into a supermarket. But here, everyone’s in the same boat and there’s loads of good banter. 

He’s currently working with one of the Glass Door team to apply for jobs, and temping. He’s confident that he’ll be back in full-time work soon. Accommodation is another matter, however. “That’s the million-dollar question,” he says. “I’m not dwelling on that yet, because I need to focus on finding a job. I have irons in the fire, so hopefully something will come of that.”


Read the rest of James Hopkirk's blog, including profiles and photos of Peter, Ben and others who share a spot in the shelter with the photojournalist....