Working hard and enjoying his job as a certified butcher in Shepherds Bush, being homeless never crossed Michael's mind. 

 

Michael was born in Parsons Green in 1950 and spent most of his adult life working in the borough, visiting his parents in East Anglia on Sundays. 

“I loved every minute of my time as a butcher,” said the 65-year-old. “I got my college degree and became a certified butcher, and went all the way through to the final stage of managing.”

But when his mother became ill, Michael made the decision in his fifties to move closer to his parents. Just three months later, she passed away, followed by Michael’s father being diagnosed with cancer.

“I would work split shifts as a cleaner, so I could see him every day,” said Michael. “I took care of his bills and helped look after him. He was in a lot of pain.”

When his father died, Michael moved back to London. “It’s where I am from, and where I wanted to spend my remaining days,” he explained. “I had several job interviews, but it always went to someone else. I understand. I was almost a pensioner.”

After failing to find a job, he ended up sleeping rough on and off for five years. Life was far from easy, and he became wary of help from outreach workers when none of the councils wanted to take responsibility for him. 

While he recounts many instances of kindness from strangers, he also was attacked twice. “One time, I was sleeping in Knightsbridge, and these three well-dressed guys beat me up. You’ve got these people who just don’t like homeless people. They think we’re all drug-users.”

Michael's health deteriorated. He could only take his shoes off while he slept, and wet feet is a common cause of rotting feet in people who are homeless. 

With physical problems compounding his grief, Michael attempted suicide two times. “I got depressed and so down,” he says.

Living on the street, it does affect you. It’s going to shorten your life.

Getting help

When Michael started visiting the Glass Door drop-in centres, things began to look up. “The drop-in centres, they’re a lifeline,” said Michael. “I collected post, took a shower. It was somewhere warm for a few hours.”

Anna, a Glass Door caseworker, helped him apply for a freedom pass so he could travel more easily to the drop-ins. After earning his trust, she convinced him to engage with Fulham outreach workers again. 

Thanks in part to her help, Michael moved into his own flat in Hayes just before Christmas last year. 

“I spent Christmas day cooking a meal and doing the normal things in life that people take for granted,” said Michael. “It was the best Christmas I ever had.” 

“Now, I’m right on top of my bills, I look after myself,” said Michael. “I get a flu jab once a year. I love cooking. I make myself a nice beef stew. That’s the thing about being a butcher, my mother always said I would never starve!"

“My advice for others in a similar situation? Find somewhere safe, undercover to sleep. There are places to go to get a meal, get off your feet, and talk to someone. Take a shower. Get your washing done.

If I had stayed on the street, I wouldn’t have survived. This place saved my life.