We spoke last year, Liam, but you’ve been busy since then.*
When we spoke last, I had only just come over from Belfast. People there thought I was mad just coming to Leeds with a tent and a plan to sell the magazine, but I knew had to do something. I spent a few nights in the tent and then I found a hostel and then a place to stay. Then I changed pitches and came over to York to sell the magazine and I’ve been up to all kinds of things.
‘It is possible to come back from being on the streets’
Where are you staying now?
I have a place to stay with some customers of mine. I was a bit nervous when they first offered me the a place to stay, but it is so much easier to be in York than travel back and forth to Leeds like I used to do. We are getting insights into one another’s lives by living together and it’s a massive confidence boost that someone would trust me like that. I’ve had problems with private landlords in the past who have only wanted to make money, whereas these guys really want to see me succeed and go further in life. It’s helped me to think about what I want to do in the future.
In what way?
I’m lucky. I’ve been given somewhere to stay. It’s not my own home, but it is a home and it feels like home to me. But I walk past people on the street and I think we need to do something about this. There’s a lot of centres in York who are feeding homeless people, which is great, but there’s not much support to help people get off and stay off the street. So I would like to set up a floating supporting network. I have no idea of how to do it yet but I have some ideas about how I could start raising funds to do it. I’ve also done a lot of local TV, radio and newspaper interviews to tell my story and how I’ve turned my life around. I want to be able to use my life experience to help other people sort their lives out and to show people that it is possible to come back from being on the streets, but that you need to catch people before they give up hope to help them.
What else have you been up to?
I’ve been supporting the Pay It Forward scheme in York. You can go in to this place and, for example, pay £4 for chicken and chips. They will stick up a Post-it so that somebody in need can come and get a free meal. I use some of the money I make to support that and I promote it on my Facebook profile. When I recently did that somebody donated £400 to the service, so that was like 100 meals available for whoever needed them. It’s just doing small things that can help others. I also started up the loyalty cards this year as a way of building up a relationship with my customers. If people buy nine magazines from me they get the tenth one free. Big Issue North liked the idea so much that they took the idea!
Do you have a message for your customers?
I want to say a big thank you to everyone. When I first came to York and started selling on this pitch it was hard because the previous vendor, Pete, had just passed away. Some of his customers didn’t know, so they were asking me where he was and I was having to tell them that he wasn’t with us anymore. I thought people were never going to accept me here but they did, and they have given me so much support and they really want me to succeed. It’s the customers who keep me going.