Phil,
Leeds City Centre

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Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m 48 years old, and Leeds born and bred.

‘I am in a flat now, and I am trying to keep hold of that’

How long have you sold Big Issue North for?
I was selling for around 15 years, then I stopped, but I have just started again. I’ve got my own place now. I was on disability benefits, but now they say I’m fit for work and they have taken me off that so I’ve got no money coming in while I wait for the new benefit to start.

How did you first become homeless?
I’ve been homeless on and off since I was 13, when I first ran away from home. I used to doss in my mates’ cupboard. My family would come around looking for me and one day I fell out of the cupboard and his dad caught me! My own dad was pretty violent – he used to batter me. My mum died when I was 10 and after that it got worse. I was really close to my mum and when she died it sort of destroyed me. I never got over it really.

Did you end up on the streets?
Yeah, I was on the streets for about seven years in a row. I’ve also been in hostels, people’s houses, squats and things like that. I started using drugs when I was on the street. It helps you to sleep, you know? People think it’s your own fault, but I don’t think anyone sets out to be a drug addict. It’s just some people learn to cope with their problems differently. Some people turn to drugs thinking it will make a difference, and for a long time it does. But when you come down off the drugs, your problems are still there. I still use now and again. More now than again I suppose but I am trying to stop and at least I am in a flat now, and I am trying to keep hold of that.

Do you still see your dad?
Oh yeah. He’s totally changed now. You wouldn’t think he was the same man. He never gets violent, hardly ever drinks. I have made peace with him now. He keeps saying he regrets it and I say: “Look, I love you no matter what.”

What do you do in your spare time?
I watch telly. I love football. I’m a Leeds United fan. I’m one of its two supporters.

What makes you happy?
Everybody else being happy.

What makes you sad?
When I think about the world nowadays. There are a lot of people who are in need. I just hope the government will reconsider what they are doing to people, because people are suffering – things like Universal Credit. I mean, it’s crazy. If they start sending people who use drugs or alcohol cheques to give to their landlords, and they are sat there in need, the last thing people are going to think about is paying their rent. So that’s going to end up making more people homeless. The problem is, the people who think these things up have never been there. They don’t know what it’s like to have not eaten for days. That shouldn’t be happening in this country in this day and age, not knowing where your next meal is coming from.

Do you have a message for your customers?
I just want to say thank you to all those nice people out there, if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be able to get by every week. It means a lot to me.

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