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Tell us about yourself.
I’m 60 years old and originally from Scunthorpe, but I lived in London 37 years.

‘It’s a very dangerous way of life. People have died on the streets.’

What brought you to York?
I’ve been a housing activist for over 30 years and have been involved in some high profile squats, direct action, things like that. When you are getting on a bit you need to have a break, so last year I came here to York, and on my first morning here I thought “Well, this looks nice”, and I ended up staying.

How did you become a housing activist?
When I was first homeless I started getting involved in different groups like CHAR, which campaigned for single homeless people. I got the bug for campaigning and just kept doing it.

What do you make of the current homelessness situation?
For those who have nothing, the current situation is an absolute disaster. There are people sleeping out in shop doorways in every town and city in the country. And it’s a very dangerous way of life. People have died on the streets. If you look around York you can see buildings with shops at the bottom and at the top they are absolutely empty. And we’ve got people sleeping out on the streets, which seems ridiculous to me.

Where does the responsibility for the current situation lie?
We are in a situation where young people are getting married and settling down but still living with their parents well into their thirties and forties. Everybody blames everybody else, but they don’t look at the people they elect. Some people might look at someone who comes from Eastern Europe and say “It’s their fault”, which is ridiculous. The blame lies with those people who make the law and control the finances. The fact of the matter is, there is no need for anyone to be sleeping on the streets in a civilised society and the question we have to ask is, we can send people to the moon, send information in a split second to the other side of the world, and yet we have people sleeping in shop doorways. What sane society is that?

Is there hope?
It’s going to be a long hard road. This change isn’t going to happen overnight. I’ve been campaigning on homelessness for over 30 years and it’s getting worse. But maybe it has to get worse before it gets better. When I see children walking down the street, I think, we have to do everything in our power to make sure they are not in a situation that many of our vendors are in now. Everyone can play their part.

Why do you sell the magazine?
It’s an opportunity to speak to people about what’s going on. I direct them to my Facebook page Homeless Britain and I let them judge for themselves. It’s not about the money – it’s all about the love. And I like Big Issue North. It’s a good organisation. My customers tell me that they think it’s a good read. It’s definitely a bit more radical than some magazines.

What are your plans for 2017?
Last year, I set up a squat camp on a bit of unused land outside York, and we’ll be re-establishing that this year. We’ve got tents up there and I want to put a wood burner in there as well. I want it to be a place where other homeless people can come.

Do you have a message for your customers?
Keep the faith.

Interview: Christian Lisseman

Interact: Responses to Norbert, York city centre

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