Paul has been “sleeping rough” in Bristol, England for 17 years (Sleeping rough is the British equivalent of our being homeless). An articulate and ruggedly handsome man in his fifties, Paul said simply that after a relationship break down he found himself with no place to live. He began to walk around England and, as he puts it, eventually found himself “at the bottom of the chain.
So eventually you’ve just got to adapt into homelessness and then try as hard as you can to get out of it.” He declines to go into any further detail but speaks completely without rancor or any hint of feeling like a victim. He talks about the choices he made along the way, the wonderful but often tragic people he’s met, and his current good fortune being offered an opportunity to build a home out of a rehabilitated shipping container.
The opportunity to build himself a home occurred when Paul met Jasper Thompson, who runs a charity in Bristol. “What everyone else was doing for the homeless was handing out the usual sandwiches, socks, and bits and pieces, which is exactly what I was doing…but after I got speaking to the lads, I realized that when you asked them what they want, they all go ‘a roof over my head – a four-bedroom flat – a house’. Then you kinda realize we’re not actually helping because we’re keeping people in the same position.”
Nodding his head, Paul joined in; “It’s like when people came up to me and offered me money, I’d say to them, look, I’m looking for a hand up, not a handout. And they think you’re daft because you don’t want their money. I’ve done it numeral times, I don’t want their money. I want a job, somewhere to live. I’m not interested in what you can give me financially…that lasts ten minutes, a quarter an hour and you’re just back to square one again. But you just need that initial hand up. Once you’ve got that then everything else opens up for you and it’s up to you to pick it up and go with it.”
THE LORD HELPS THOSE…
Jasper Thompson gave Paul the hand up he needed. Jasper said he often helped the homeless before with donations but decided to do something more substantial after finding Paul sleeping rough outside his local supermarket. The first thing he did was get the agreement of the owner of an empty lot to let him install a caravan of shipping containers donated by other friends in Bristol. Then Mr. Thompson, Paul, and other homeless men worked together to convert the containers up to a livable standard. Donations of fixtures, fittings, and furniture flooded in, along with local tradesmen to train the homeless men in new skills.
WHO HELP THEMSELVES
“When the job was finished and we looked at it, we felt great,” Paul said. “And then we thought, well, what we gonna do now? Where’s the next one?” Now they’re working on their second one. They plan to build a whole container city. “You get up, do a day’s work…run things through your head and realize you achieved something…what you set out to achieve. That makes you feel good inside. And it makes you look forward to tomorrow.”
Paul’s folksy wisdom captures the essence of social work:
Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day,
teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.