It’s getting harder to venture into Ilford. I ALWAYS cry at some point, just so long as no one is looking. But usually it takes an hour or two. Today it happened as soon as I stepped off the bus.
Perched on top of a bin was Priya, looking scrawnier than ever. Last time I saw her she wolfed down three hot meals in half an hour. She’s not eating…and it’s fairly obvious where what little money she manages to get hold if, is going. On her bony chest she’d stuck a sticker ‘New hot girls’. It was like one of them stickers they put on the reduced price aisle in Tesco, just before the meat goes off. ‘You got any food mate?’, she asked me, as she always does. I didn’t have any but I did give her a quid and a hug. I probably should have spent it on food, because I know the chances are it will go on either crack, smack or Spice. I have no idea which one she is using but I’ve watched this pretty, feisty, kind-hearted girl decline over the last few months. Now it’s accelerated at one helluva pace, after she broke up with her partner. If or when she dies, no doubt her family will be summoned and everyone will stand around and stroke their chins and console themselves that it was ‘inevitable’. But was it? Was it really? The longer you are left out to die on the streets, the tighter the knot becomes and, yes, untangling it becomes a nigh-on impossible task. But given time, resources, love understanding – and My God – a home, there should be nothing inevitable in the death of this young girl. She will need a team of people on her side, fighting for her, being an advocate for her, listening to her and sometimes shouting at her. But no, it’s not impossible. But Priya knows just as well as I do, that she’s already been written off as a lost cause. And if everybody else does that to her, why shouldn’t she do the same?
Having shed my tears I walked the long way around to the library to avoid my friend Martin. He’s been on the crack pipe for several months now, after years of only touching the odd lager. I saw him collapsed on his bed with some hangers-on the other night, the people who no doubt sold him that shit in the first place. I told them to f*** off. Parasites. But then Martin is becoming a parasite now too. These people can drain you of every penny and every drop of positivity that you possess. This lovely African lady offered to feed and house him, get him some rehab and eventually work towards getting him a job. He agreed but when she came to collect him, he was not there. He’s a slave to the pipe now.
And yet, this is not the whole story. Most of my brothers and sisters on the street, even now, don’t do crack, smack, Spice or (God forbid!) ethanol. They are the strong ones. But the ‘system’ will penalise you for your strength. If you abuse these drugs you tend to get fast-tracked into accommodation. If you don’t, you are deemed strong enough to survive, and left out to die. Or after months and years of fighting to get a roof over your head, you one day realise ‘it ain’t ever gonna happen’ – so you partake. What the hell? If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
I had the dubious pleasure of two nights in a ‘hostel’ on Bulwer Road in Leytonstone full of these people. I was the only person in there not doing crack or smack. They omitted to tell me of the danger I was in, Over those two delightful nights I was robbed of my money and my mobile phone, and stayed up for two nights in a row disarming two different blokes who got paranoid and potentially violent, one with a knife. After two days I told ‘Saint’ Mungo’s, the ‘charity’ that put me there, to stick it, and went to sleep down Stratford Shopping Centre. On returning to my old address last week, there was a letter from them, demanding unpaid ‘rent’ for the rest of the month which I was meant to have spent ‘living’ in that absolute hellhole. They’re suing me for it and have added £400 costs to my bill. I should be suing them, seeing as I nearly lost my life because of their cruelty and recklessness. Anyway, in the words of Her Majesty’s amoral and duplicitous Foreign Secretary, they can whistle for it….