Homeless in Exeter

July 20, 2009

DSC01930Exeter is home to the 5th highest number of rough sleepers and homeless people in the UK. You have probably seen them on your way to Arena or Timepiece lying on the side of the way. Some will have blankets, some have a dog and layers of clothing on, and some will have nothing. One of the organizations that work tirelessly in Exeter to see the homeless resettled is a charity called St Petrock’s. St Petrock’s works with former prisoners, the homeless and the socially excluded. In 2008 alone St Petrock’s worked with over 1700 clients, helped 593 people into accommodation, 142 people into full time employment and saw 1774 ex-prisoners resettled. In their studies they found that 86% of the people they work with have complex needs such as mental health problems or addiction issues.

Initiatives such as “Soup on the run” which is a joint venture involving some local churches in Exeter provides food to the lost and desperate members of the Exeter society. Speaking to one of the gentlemen who does soup on the run it was painful to discover that every few weeks they hear of the death of one or two more right there on the street. They left this world cold and alone with no one to care for them. The most recognition they will get for their existence is that they will be recorded as a statistic. There was huge out cry form the homeless community after a man was discovered dead last year in Northenhay Gardens. The police report stated that the deceased had been sleeping rough. One 22 year old man was quoted as saying that death on the street was natural and that people come and go a lot on the street.

In a bid to try and understand the culture of the homeless in Exeter, I left my house just after midnight with the sole purpose of meeting the citizens of our streets. It was an experience like no other. I spoke with some of them, I sat down with some of them and watched people walk past without even a glance or maybe occasional “Get a job!” To those who were hungry I brought food and understood what it is like to be out in the cold with nowhere to go. I saw in the faces of Paddy ad Kev and many others, I saw in their faces a hope and remembrance of what they had wanted to be and the bitterness of how it turned out.

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Some argue that the homeless deserve to be on the street and that they made choices in life that lead them to that point. This may be true. There is well documented evidence to support the notion that some abusers of illegal substances, some are alcoholics and some are criminals. Others are ex-convicts who know no other life except to be behind bars and the release into the world is both frightening and challenging. Some served many years in the army and came back to their country and found that no one was waiting. They found that life had moved on and they didn’t know what the next move was. As we’re sitting outside McDonalds, Paddy tells me that he was in Zimbabwe once upon a time, he did some obstruction work back in the day and now he lives on the street in Exeter. He speaks with agony over the loss of his daughter to a drug overdose when she was on the street. Listening to him talk I felt very fortunate to have the support and care of a loving family and friends who are concerned with my welfare.

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It must be the most difficult thing to wake up and know no one really cares. Doug expressed how hard it is, and how he sometimes he feels like he is alive because he hasn’t died not because he has something to live for. It was apparent that the subway I shared with Doug was a momentary relief from his way of life, because we both realised that I cannot go there everyday and he will not always be there when I go.

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4 Responses to “Homeless in Exeter”

  1. korneelverhaeghe Says:

    Read the article in Exeposé a few weeks ago, was -and still is- very interesting and revealing.

    I think a lot of people better try it out for themselves and spend a night on the streets. Then they would realize that the only thing that gives them courage, is the fact that they can go back home the day after and that it is only for 1 night. Yet, if you have nowhere to go to the day after, we can only imagine how that must feel and how hard it must be.

    Good stuff!

  2. buckohare Says:

    Powerful – we really do overlook those who are unfortunate and down in life. Isnt so easy to be self-righteous and hard and say it was all their fault. Yet even if it was havn’t we all made such mistakes and rely on someone to help us out at some point in our lives? Are such people any different on us – just that they were not helped with their mistakes? Good article – it nicely raises awareness of such a need!


  3. I enjoyed this, it’s good to hear the stories of those who often go unnoticed.


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