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Valu, 47, lives under Battersea Bridge in a tent. It’s not what he imagined when he arrived in December 2015, but getting his national insurance number and finding a job have taken longer than expected.


With a clean-shaven face and well-groomed nails, only the large pack Valu carries give evidence of his homeless status. He takes showers and shaves regularly at the daytime drop-in centre run in partnership by Chelsea Methodist Church and Glass Door.


When he’s waiting to wash his clothes, he sometimes helps out in the kitchen preparing lunch and cleaning up afterwards. He also helps with translations when asked. “Being a teacher, I have good grammar,” he says in a soft, measured voice.


Valu used to teach in a Romanian orphanage. “I worked with kids who have disabilities. I teach all subjects, and I even go with them to have injections and medicines when they need,” he says.


“I studied mapping geography in university, but I have no license in this field,” Valu adds. He explains that he didn’t have the 400 euros to get the certification needed to work as a cartographer, so he had to drop this last step.


For thirteen years, he was also the primary caregiver to his nephew, now a 19-year-old astrophysics student. “He’s very clever,” Valu recounts with pride. He says his nephew’s mother walked out years ago, and the boy’s father (Valu’s older brother) lives in the Netherlands to provide money for the family. Valu also looked after his own mother who had lost her eyesight before passing away five years ago.


Valu came to London for the same reason most European migrants do: to create a better future.

“I want to find a job, change my life, and help my brother and my nephew…. I want to make them proud.”

He knows he will need some luck and more than a bit of help.


“This church helps me a lot,” he says. Glass Door caseworkers have supported him with registering with employment agencies, and he used the charity’s computers to write and print copies of his CV. He’s been on the waiting list for the Glass Door night shelters for a few weeks but has yet to gain a place. The winter of 2015/2016 has seen demand far outstrip supply.


Locals sometimes give him clothes when they pass by his tent in Battersea. One neighbour hired Valu for some odd jobs and even offered to let Valu use his address on his CV.


Valu has a history of finding a way, as his decent command of English shows. “Growing up in a communist country, they don’t want us to know English,” he says. “So I learned by books, movies, music,” he says. French and English-language comedic films were his favourite teaching aids.


Picturing Valu poring over endless loops of Hugh Grant films, it’s not hard to imagine him the optimistic hero in his own life story. But up to now it hasn’t been clear whether it will turn out to be a comedy or a tragedy.


Just today, Valu tells Glass Door he found a job. He’ll be delivering food by bicycle starting tomorrow. Valu loves to cycle, and everyone is thrilled. 


It’s taken a village to get here: One friend lent a bicycle, another will be storing his pack by day and his cycle by night. He’s had to borrow money for a phone. 


After Valu saves some money, he plans to trade in his tent for a room. He says:


I fight for this job.  It’s good to work, but it’s even better to do a job you love than to do something just for the money.