‘Stop and talk to us - we’re just normal people’ says Leamington homeless man

*Steve talking with Steph Atkin. Steph stopped to give Steve a hot drink on a cold day a couple of months ago and they have seen each other regularly from that point on.
*Steve talking with Steph Atkin. Steph stopped to give Steve a hot drink on a cold day a couple of months ago and they have seen each other regularly from that point on.

A man who has been sleeping in doorways in Leamington for nearly a year is pleading with people to take just two minutes of their day to stop and talk to someone homeless.

Last week we ran a story about a Facebook post by Steph Atkin that told the story about how she developed a friendship with the homeless man after stopping to give him a hot drink on a cold day.

The 52-year-old’s post helped raise awareness and thousands of pounds for the LWS Night Shelter in Leamington. Steph also gave an insight into ‘Steve’s story’ (not his real name).

This week we caught up with Steve, who is 39, and he spoke to us about his story.

Steve first found himself on the streets when he was 13 after having family issues.

He said: “I have spent 26 years on the streets on and off.

“I had my first taste when I was 13. I spent a few weeks here and there on the streets. I then went into care when I was 15, which I was then kicked out of when I was 16 and I then sofa surfed.

“I moved around a lot. I was born in Yorkshire and then first came to Leamington with my family when I was 12.”

Steve has a daughter who lives in Kineton and also recently learned that he is going to be a grandad.

He said that he used to live with his daughter’s mum when they were in a relationship and that he would stay at home and look after their child.

But when their relationship broke down he was forced to leave and then moved around a lot.

Steve has been sleeping rough in Leamington for nearly a year and throughout his time being on and off the streets he has battled with alcohol and drug addiction.

He said: “I am recovering. I first realised I had problem with drink when I was 16. I have managed to get myself sober and clean. I have been sober for two to three years and I have been clean for around four months.

“People often think that we are on streets because of drink and drugs but a lot of us do it because of being out here and it helps us get through.”

Because of getting himself clean Steve often chooses not to go into shelters as it puts him in a difficult situation.

He said: “It is really hard to stay clean and sober around the streets. I often stay in my doorway to avoid the temptation as a lot of people who attend the shelters have similar issues.

“I would rather go forwards than backwards. I have been up and down too many times.”

Sometimes Steve will attend the LWS Night Shelter and the shelter at Radford Road Church.

Steve is one of the many homeless people that are in Leamington and he is now pleading with people to treat homeless people like human beings.

He said: “People often look down their noses at you if you are homeless and very few people stop and speak to us but people need to realise we are still human beings.

“People think that when we are out here and if they stop and speak to us there is going to be an end of them giving money but it is the acknowledgement and speaking to us like human beings that means everything.

“I try and stay away from drink and drugs and if it wasn’t for Steph I probably would have gone down that road.

“I don’t ask for money and when people give me things it is so nice.

“At the weekend a man came up to me and saw my shoes had a hole in them and he asked what size I was. The day after he came up to me with his wife and said that he had just been and bought me new boots and that he has a few more bits in the car for me and then they asked if I wanted anything to eat.

“These things lift you up and shows that there are some good people out there. Things like this make it more bearable out here.

“A lot of the time it feels like everyone is judging you but we just want people to stop and chat to us even if it is just for two minutes. It doesn’t cost anything to take two minutes out of 24 hours. It is nothing to you but everything to us. Please take two minutes.”

Steve is hopeful that he will be getting a flat soon and hopes to one day become a counsellor to help people in a similar situation.

He said: “One day I hope to get training so that I can help people that are facing addictions and people going through the same thing I have gone through.”

In Steph’s Facebook post she said that she often walked past Steve and then one day bought him a hot drink and their friendship went on from there.

She said: “I think a huge problem is that people don’t want to acknowledge the homelessness problem. You feel helpless and eventually I thought to myself this is absolutely ridiculous, he is just another person so I took him a drink and that was it.

“I have got to know Steve over the last couple of months and we found out that we both share the same birthday.

“I take the view that we are all close to possibly being homeless and that it could happen to any of us.

“It is difficult making the first step. I think it is quite hard for people to stop and talk to someone who is homeless as I think they get worried about what reaction they are going to get but I just think if everyone stopped and talked to them it was make a huge difference.

“Just stopping to talk to someone who is homeless is a little thing that people can do. It seems little but it is not to them.

“On the days that I am working in Leamington I bring Steve a hot drink and offer to buy him food.”

Susan Rutherford and Jazz Singh, Directors of the LWS Night Shelter, said: “In the two years that LWS Night Shelter has been running, we’ve seen a significant increase in visitors, and the Shelter is busier than ever.

“We’ve seen how homelessness can quickly become a complex spiral, escape from which is often a long and painful process for the individual and those around them.

“A comprehensive and tailored approach is needed to ensure that those battling with mental health issues, substance misuse, domestic problems, or a myriad of other circumstances are given the best possible chance to come out the other side, having been able to put themselves back together.

“LWS is the safety net for those that fall onto rough times, and a way for them to be pointed in the right direction to seek long-term support from the many great services and charities in the area.

“Given the freezing conditions we’re facing this past week, it’s more important than ever to make sure we’re all working together as a community and doing our best to make sure our homeless friends are safe, warm, and fed - a cup of coffee, a chat, and a blanket go a long way.”