Words By: Ryan Child
Ian has an ulcer, an electric wheelchair and one leg. He is rich in poverty. And so is Bristol, the town where he holds the monoped monopoly. That is to say, he is the only one legged homeless man.
Here the homeless rate is three times that of Birmingham and rising at double the speed of Manchester, according to homeless.org.uk. Outside of London, Bristol is unmatched in its number of 97 registered homeless people.
Originally, Ian is from Slough. He was a crane operator, got deep vein thrombosis, had his leg amputated at the thigh, and has been homeless ever since.
“Last week my electric wheelchair ran out of power,” he said, picking at his nails. “So I had to literally hop on me one leg back to me tent.” It’s hard not to laugh, for some reason, and he smiles back at me. “You should smell the ulcer on the leg that’s left. Fuckin’ stinks.”
True, it did. I’m not sure everything Ian told me was true, though, because he thought I was a policeman. After two cans of beer I felt a bit more comfortable in this strange world that most of us tend to consciously ignore. Ian and I sat chatting about his savings from begging.
“I’ve got 385 quid at the moment,” he said. “Soon I’ll have enough for a deposit on a house.”
In April of this year, the Bristol Post reported the average deposit on a Bristol house to be £28,800. As we spoke a hysterical, short, crying women with knotted hair wailed up to us with a bearded man in tow.
“Spare some change mate,” the bearded man asked Ian.
“No mate, go away,” Ian scowled. The woman was looking for Jenna.
Every homeless person I spoke to that night was asked by another homeless person for money. The obnoxious pair left and Ian leant in to whisper something transient and vital into my ear.
“I’m not trying to be a prick, mate,” he began. “But can you clear off? The beer you’re drinking is making me look bad.”
Heroin and Milkshakes
Simon, like Ian, has a bad leg. The difference being that he got it falling from a shed roof a few days before I met him, “doing bad things.” When I approach him Simon is reading the paper upside down. I mentioned it later on that evening.
“I can’t read mate,” he said. “I just do it because it looks better dunt it?”
As we limp through town together, I wonder if it does make a begger look better, being interested in current affairs. I ask Simon about money.
“On a good day you can earn £150 a day begging. Then I can buy food and other stuff.”
“What other stuff?” I ask.
“Gear mostly, mate,” he said, referring to a heroin addiction that costs him upwards of £100 a day.
“The problem is I’m using needles now, so my habit is sky high. There’s a bit left for food and drink but it’s mostly spent on the gear.”
Simon became homeless when his mother left town. Their relationship had “got out of control” and so he decided to live on the streets when she went.
By now it’s getting cold, so we walk past the kebab shops and lights on Park Street and settle next to some cash machines opposite a Nandos and Jamie’s Kitchen.
“This is a lifestyle choice for me,” Simon said, unprompted. It had actually been awkwardly quiet between us since I bought him a family size Yazoo Banana milkshake.
“It’s my lifestyle, and it ain’t gonna change. I’ll be here Christmas making some money begging, and then spend it on gear, you know.”
Then Tony turned up.
This article originally appeared in Front Magazine.