When you think about homeless people, there is a tendency to use broad strokes. It involves sleeping on the streets. It’s mainly to do with alcohol and drugs. It’s not fixable.
I wanted though to hear from homeless people about what his life is like. To tell his story about how he ended up where he is and particularly about what his life is like every day. The questions were difficult to put together at first. A lot of them were scrapped: it’s hard to ask people about one of the most difficult things in his life without coming across as intrusive.
Instead, we focused on the day-to-day stuff. How long have you been homeless? What’s your biggest fear? What do you think of the police? What’s the best thing that’s happened to you this week?
Although it was still much harder than I ever thought it would be. I was willingly walking toward something I’d always made a point to avoid. I’ve always thought of myself as a very self-confident person, but suddenly as I went to make my first contact, I became nervous. How would he react?
I approached a man and asked if I could interview him. “Sure, he said, “but only If you buy me a beer.” I offered to sit down outside in a nearby cafe for a coffee but he didn’t like the sound of that. So a pint of Lech it was!
Hi. Can I ask your name?
Sure. It’s Marek
How old are you?
Are you homeless?
Right now yes.
Are there many homeless people in Poznań?
I don’t know how many but I know at least 20 or 30. Sometimes people come and go so you lose contact with them.
I see many of the same faces on the streets in Poznań. Are you all like friends?
We all know each other but I wouldn’t call us ‘friends’. At any time, any one of them can turn on you for no reason. That’s not what friends do, right?
Are they also homeless?
No. Not all of them.
So can’t you get housed by the local government?
It’s very difficult. I have been waiting for 2 years! They say that they don’t have any empty properties! So I go on living in the streets. I cant get a job to improve my situation.
So where do you sleep?
I have a couple of favorite places. Now it’s not too bad. Its the winter that is very difficult. I have lost a couple of friends because they died in the night. I have a heart problem since January this year so I’m not looking forward to the winter. If I drink some vodka though it keeps me warmer.
What did you use to do?
I was a printer back in the day. It was a good job. I had a place to live and a family around me.
So what went wrong?
(after a long pause) I would rather not talk about it.
Why do you think many people end up drinking and homeless?
There are many reasons. People react to stress in different ways. Once you get hooked on alcohol it’s a long slippery path. It destroys you and your family.
So how do you get money to drink?
Mostly from people. If I ask 10 people then maybe one will give me something.
Do you have kids?
Yes. They are older now and living in Leeds in the UK. They are happy there.
Don’t they help you?
I don’t ask and they don’t give. I will manage
Wow. That seems strange to me. I would help my old man.
Can’t you get help from the city other than housing?
Of course. They give me some money but its nothing. If I had younger children I would get 500PLN for each one. This would be a great help but its too late for me. I’m sure I haven’t got much more time on this earth!
I’m saddened that you think this way.
When you’re at the bottom, it’s very hard to break out. Especially when your an alcoholic.
Why do you drink?
It started a long time ago. I feel better when I’ve been drinking.
Are you an alcoholic?
How many beers do you drink every day?
I don’t know. It depends how much money I have but around 10 a day.
Maybe I can try to find you some help?
Don’t make me laugh. You are here in Poland for 5 minutes. There is nothing for people like me.
Most people think alcoholics and homeless people on the streets of Poznań are bad people. What do you think about that?
It’s true. But some are not bad. Believe me, I know what I’m talking about. I have met all sorts of people on the streets. Some of them are really nice people but they are generally not the ones you see hanging around in parks drinking.
Do you hang around parks?
How do you think we can prevent homelessness?
You cant stop it. You can save a few maybe but as long as there are alcohol and drugs there will be people who will make wrong decisions. That’s life. Maybe my next life will be better.
Finally, apart from alcohol addiction, what are the danger signs for people that could end up homeless?
Imagine you lost your job tomorrow. Imagine you lost your house tomorrow. Imagine you lose all your family tomorrow. Imagine you had no money tomorrow. Imagine you had no friends tomorrow. What would you do?
After my talk with Marek, I was really upset. I know people say that they bring it on themselves, which is partly true. I must admit my conversation with Marek did change my opinion a little bit. For the first time, I genuinely felt sorry for him and others like him. Probably tomorrow I will revert back to my ‘don’t give a damn’ attitude which is probably how most of us feel, which is a bad thing. We are all so wrapped up in our busy lives we don’t have time to worry about someone who has given up on themselves. He did open my eyes to something though. What if I lost everything tomorrow as he described. What would I do? It makes you appreciate what we have even more.