• Michelle Partington

There’s a real person beneath those rags.

I went into town today and thankfully saw Greg sat in his usual place. Only today he was huddled as close into the corner as he could, his head resting on the wall and his eyes closed. He must have been frozen sat on the concrete. I headed over to him, had a quick chat and gave him some food vouchers before carrying on with the jobs I needed to do. On the way back I turned the corner and he was still there huddled. I took a moment to watch everyone just walking past, side glancing at him or just ignoring him completely like he wasn’t even there. It broke my heart to see other ‘human beings’ treating their fellow man in this way.

I looked at my watch and knew I needed to get back but seeing him ignored like that just made me forget the minor priorities I had put on the jobs I ‘needed’ to do. I walked over to him and asked if he wanted to join me in Costa. He was really pleased bless him. He gathered up the butt end he was smoking, a fudge chocolate bar and his cup with a few pennies in it. He finished what was left of the cigarette and put it into a bin close by. He then picked up a few more butt ends from the bin before following me into the shopping precinct. I felt gutted for him and my first thought was to go and buy him some cigarettes but I decided I wouldn’t buy him any. I really don’t mind helping him out but I always vowed I would never buy cigarettes, alcohol or hand money out to those who are homeless.

We walked into Costa and chose a comfy sofa area to sit at. I was just going over to the counter and was going to order for him but then I checked myself. He was a grown man with a mind of his own and had the right to choose what he wanted. I turned and asked him to come and choose what he wanted to eat and drink. He chose and then sat back down again. I ordered and whilst I was stood there waiting for our drinks he was approached by a member of staff. I’m not sure what was said but Greg started to get up and leave. I rushed over to him and got him to sit down again. Apparently the cashier had stated he wasn’t allowed to take shelter in the cafe and had been asked to leave. I was furious with the member of staff and now Greg felt awkward because everyone was looking at him, some looking down their noses. I shouted over to the member of staff who’d asked Greg to leave and he came over. In a voice a little louder than normal so others could hear I told him that Greg was joining me for lunch and had every right to take up a seat. I also stated that if he had a problem with it then we would both leave and return later with a member of the press! I asked him to apologise to Greg and then leave us to have our lunch. Needless to say we didn’t have any further bother. I looked around and people looked away.

Our drinks and food came to the table and we started to enjoy our lunch. I took a good look at Greg and I realised he had no teeth. I’m really glad I asked him to choose his own food because what if I’d chosen a hard baguette!!! I also noticed he had a beard which I hadn’t really paid much attention to before. He’d had stubble on previous meets but today I was aware he had a full, unkept beard. I also noticed his hair hanging down from underneath the woolly hat I’d bought him. He had curly hair bless him. I asked him how he’d been getting on and he said a friend had allowed him to sleep in her spare room on and off. I gave him details of a couple of places that could help him with accommodation and benefits etc. Fingers crossed he gets something sorted soon.

I asked him if the clothes I bought him fitted him ok. I was very glad to see he was wearing the hat and scarf. He told me he was wearing the thermal underwear but he wanted to keep the other items for best. My thoughts wandered to what he would class as a ‘best’ time to wear them. Again I had a pang of sadness towards his situation. I had been really annoyed earlier in the day, ranting to Virgin Media because I had a problem connecting some of my items to the wifi. It paled into significance when I looked at Greg sat there in front of me with filthy black nails on hands wrapped around his mug keeping warm. He was rocking forwards and backwards but was really engaging in conversation.

We chatted for ages about him going to see the recommendations I had given him. We started to talk about the other ‘homeless’ people within the immediate vicinity. There was a chap with his dog who always sat with a cup asking for money outside the same shop. It transpires he has a flat and is given £1000 in benefits monthly. The money he manages to gain from kind passers by is apparently spent on vodka. There was a young couple who used to be in the area but they have now moved on to another town. Once we’d both finished our lunch it was time to go. I handed over quite a few meal vouchers for him to use but also to hand over to other genuine homeless people in the area. Greg very kindly hands them out which I think is fantastic.

Before he left I gave him a massive hug and he held on to me so tight bless him and whispered thank you. As he was walking out people stared at him and then at me. Its just so sad because he is made to feel invisible most of the time but everyone noticed him when he was sat with me. Some people need to just appreciate what they have because like Greg, you could lose everything in the blink of an eye.


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