Touch Magazine

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H O M E L E S S I N D I V I D U A L S T H R O U G H I N S P I R AT I O N A L A N D L I F E - C H N A G I N G S T O R I E S


Olga Kott and Kieron Lewis Olga and Kay are two creatives from different professional backgrounds, who collaborate on numerous self-directed projects which focus on observing, documenting and sharing their surroundings, through photography and print. Since Olga & Kay formed in 2016, they have worked with a number of exciting people from Westminster City Council to TEDx. They have also given numerous talks and workshops at various schools and colleges around London.

Shirah Mansaray and James Mansaray Homeless Heroes Aid CIC (HHA) is a socially conscious organisation that works to empower members of society with hidden needs. Our signature program ‘Creating Art For Inner Peace’ is funded by the Big Lottery and is a creative platform for vulnerable individuals, struggling with unemployment or homelessness, to access art-based group therapy. This creative, imaginative and therapeutic program is delivered over 10 weeks to groups of 10-15 individuals at a time. HHA is a BME-led social enterprise based in London. Our overall aim is to raise awareness of homelessness and increase access to mental well-being initiatives for vulnerable individuals.

WELCOME The idea of creating TOUCH comes from a place of collaboration and co-creation! When Olga & Kay and Homeless Heroes Aid CIC came together, both organisations instantly knew that a visual, people-centered project was bound to be born. We wanted to document real people and their stories - exactly the way they are: unscripted, open and a true glimpse into their experiences on the streets of London. After completing the face-to-face interviews, we ended up with a selection of stories that made us eager to share what we heard with the rest of the world. TOUCH, as a publication, is an honest attempt to revive a conversation about the people that tend to go unmentioned and overlooked in our society today. It is a project about encouraging young people to reach out to the homeless and promote social interaction with all members of our society. Hopefully,







our readers will be able to feel compassion for the homeless and a sense of social justice.

S P E A K I N G W I T H J E L LY You couldn’t miss spotting Jelly on the busy streets of Camden. A soulful, free-spirited artist and nature lover, his passionate and sincere singing and guitar tunes captivate a small audience. Almost instantly, we see him as we step out of Camden underground station and couldn’t help but start up a conversation with him: TOUCH: Hello, what’s your name? JELLY: I’m Jelly. TOUCH: Nice to meet you, Jelly. Interesting name right? JELLY: They named me so, and it stuck. TOUCH: How’s your day been so far? JELLY: Yes, it’s fine. TOUCH: You eaten anything? And what about sleeping? JELLY: Fine, I guess. If I want to make money here, I eat little and don’t sleep much. TOUCH: Oh. Are you always here? Is this your favorite area to busk? JELLY: Kinda, yes. TOUCH: Where’s your accent from? JELLY: It’s Southampton. TOUCH: Southampton? Okay. How did you manage to get down there? JELLY: Travelled all over before coming to London. [Laughter]. I’ve been travelling around since I was 8 years old. But I like Camden a lot.



TOUCH: It’s a good area, but now there’s lots of tourists here, feels like it has lost some of its vibe? JELLY: Yeah, but I still like it. TOUCH: Do you have somewhere else to stay, like in a hostel? JELLY: Not really, I like the outdoors more. TOUCH: Really? JELLY: Yeah, I travel around a lot, so I am not your typical homeless guy. TOUCH: So you would much rather travel and live in the outdoors? JELLY: Well, I didn’t choose to sleep on the streets really, but I’ve been travelling around for so long, I just got used to it.

TOUCH: How so? JELLY: Well everyone else has learnt to live in a house and I have learnt to live outdoors. Plus, it’s like a community out here, everyone looks after each other. TOUCH: Really, that’s nice that you all look after each other. JELLY: I’m pretty sure that’s how society should work, right? TOUCH: Yeah, yeah, of course.

JELLY: I just bought a cheap guitar and got someone to teach me my first song then I learnt and taught myself by watching others play. TOUCH: Can we hear a song? JELLY: Yeah, I’ll play you the song I wrote myself. [Singing]. TOUCH: That was awesome. What was that song about? It sounded very personal. JELLY: That song I wrote about myself. I’ve got a page on YouTube, I’ve got a band there, you can check us out. TOUCH: Oh, so you’re in a band? JELLY: Well, when I was a kid, my dad took off. So I just left too. So now I’ve got no choice to not live out here and I didn’t have much choice in the beginning too. TOUCH: Do you get any government assistance? JELLY: No, I move around too much. TOUCH: Oh that’s a shame. So how long have you played the guitar? JELLY: Nine years, I taught myself. TOUCH: That’s great.

JELLY: It’s just me now. TOUCH: Oh, alright. JELLY: You can hear my music there. TOUCH: What is the name of the channel? JELLY: Yes. I’ve just started it, it’s called *** Nature. Just search for it. TOUCH: How do you get online? What do you do? JELLY: On my phone, but I struggle to keep it charged.

Of course, you need money to survive, but more than that you need human contact.

TOUCH: What about the name of the channel? *** Nature? Where did this come from? JELLY: Basically it’s about the source. How there are no streets and we’re all kids, and basically, we live in empty buildings and take food from the market and we don’t use money. TOUCH: That’s very interesting. JELLY: Well, in the last eight years, the homeless population has gotten bigger. TOUCH: That’s very true. JELLY: Well guys, it’s been nice chatting, but I need to get back to it. TOUCH: Thank you again for sharing your story with us. Just one final thing, in all your time travelling the country and living on the streets, what’s the one thing you say you’re grateful for? JELLY: People stopping and talking to me. TOUCH: Really, how come? JELLY: Just stopping and talking, that is more important than giving money. Of course, you need money to survive, but actually more than that, you need human contact. To be fair, you get that from people that are on their ass like you or a couple of rungs up the ladder. Any human contact is good. The whole world needs that too. TOUCH: Thank you for sharing, Jelly. JELLY: Thanks for this.

S P E A K I N G W I T H D E N N I S Moving further down the bustling streets of Camden, we came across a man sat silently by the local Post Office. He charmed us with his dazzling smile and conversational nature: TOUCH: Hi there, do you mind if we have a chat? DENNIS: Sure, what do you want to talk about? TOUCH: Just wanted to hear your journey, like how long have you been homeless? DENNIS: For 13 years! TOUCH: Wow. Do you feel safer in a hostel or on the streets? DENNIS: I don’t feel safe anywhere but I sometimes feel safer on the streets. TOUCH: Seriously? DENNIS: Seriously. TOUCH: With the hostels, do you pay to stay there? DENNIS: I pay to stay there. Yes. TOUCH: How much do they charge you to stay there? DENNIS: £40 a week, I guess. TOUCH: That’s a lot. Does the DSS give you money for accommodation? DENNIS: Not that much. I have to pay out of my own pocket as well. Yeah. That’s why I’m out here begging for loose change. TOUCH: So how much does DSS give you?



DENNIS: £125 per month or so. TOUCH: Wow. You have to eat food as well with that money and somehow pay £160 for accomodation?

DENNIS: It’s been quite a while now. I haven’t heard from him for a long time now. TOUCH: Why, what happened?

DENNIS: That’s right.

DENNIS: I don’t know what really happened. I don’t remember how I ended things with him.

TOUCH: What was your life like before you became homeless?

TOUCH: What about your job? Were you working somewhere?

DENNIS: I was living with a girlfriend for quite a few years and we got one son.

DENNIS: No, I wasn’t, my girlfriend was working.

TOUCH: Oh, you got a son. How is your son?

TOUCH: How long had you been together for?

DENNIS: He’s probably well. He’s about 30 years old now.

DENNIS: Seven years.

TOUCH: About 30? You look too young to have a 30 year old son! [laughter] Do you keep in contact with him?

TOUCH: Did the relationship end when you became homeless? DENNIS: That’s right. And my mother passed away shortly after.

TOUCH: Sorry to hear that. Where are you from, Dennis?

DENNIS: Not really. It’s mainly the same people coming back to check up on me.

DENNIS: St. Mary, Jamaica.

TOUCH: Oh yes, it’s that smile isn’t it that keeps them coming back. [Laughter]

TOUCH: Did you think about moving back to Jamaica after your relationship ended?

DENNIS: I guess so!

DENNIS: I did, but my mother had passed away so I had nobody left there.

TOUCH: Were you ever into sports or anything?

TOUCH: So what do you do now to help you keep your mind off things?

DENNIS: Not really sports. Although I used to be a cricket man as I am from the Carribean right?! [Laughter]

DENNIS: I’ve got nothing to do to pass my time. I don’t do anything. TOUCH: Do you have any friends? DENNIS: Not much friends. TOUCH: Do you stay in the same places around London or have you ever been outside London? DENNIS: When I was in Austria, I lived in a hostel. I also lived in Washington and Northampton. TOUCH: That’s super interesting that you’ve lived in many different places around the world. Some people that aren’t homelessness have never even left the country! DENNIS: Yeah, not me. I liked travelling when I was younger. TOUCH: Do you find that some places are better than others? Are there places where people tend to give you more money? DENNIS: There are some places. TOUCH: Like Camden? DENNIS: Yeah, Camden, yeah. TOUCH: Do people come and talk to you at all?

TOUCH: So Dennis, we’re going to print a magazine with your story and a few others, where are you based so we can drop you a copy? DENNIS: You can find me in Camden these days and thank you for taking the time to speak with me.

S P E A K I N G W I T H M A G G I E We met Maggie right outside Kings Cross underground station and with her calm blue eyes and quiet demeanor, she briefly shared her story with us:

TOUCH: Hello. We’re putting together a magazine about homelessness and wanted to have a brief chat with you. MAGGIE: Okay. Are you girls still at college? I’ve done that. I’ve been there. I studied Social Work at university. When I lived in Blackpool, I had a really good job, a house, mortgage, a family and kids, but now it’s just me. TOUCH: Oh wow, you had all that? Why did you come to London? And yes, we’re still at college. MAGGIE: Dunno. I’ve lived in London for more than three years now. TOUCH: Why did you come to King’s Cross and not anywhere else in London? Do the people or tourists donate more here? MAGGIE: Kinda. TOUCH: So, do you find that certain people give money and others don’t or is it equal? MAGGIE: Maybe some really nice people, but there isn’t many... There are some people I already know and also a lot of people that got their own stuff going on - they have no interest in me, right? Also, when it gets to a Friday or Saturday night, you’ve got everyone in the club drinking and what I find quite dangerous is not knowing what they might do to me, when they’re out on the streets. Sometimes I don’t sleep for days because I am afraid for my life on the streets.



TOUCH: Oh wow. That’s scary. MAGGIE: Then it’s like, good luck anyway. I’ll go get some money. I really need some money. I’ve got a little cat as well, you see him over there? Yeah. He thinks he’s a dog, he comes and goes as he pleases. He’s tiny though, but he’s loved me all these years. TOUCH: That’s sweet. Have you had him from Blackpool?

MAGGIE: Till I make enough money to feed my cat and myself.

MAGGIE: Yeah, I found him in Blackpool. He’s two and a half now. He still looks young right? He’s so spoiled. Everyone loves him like, they just give him treats all day long. He’s a little charmer though. [Laughter]

TOUCH: Thank you very much for sharing Maggie.

TOUCH: If you decide to move to another location, how do you find him? MAGGIE: I stand up and then whistle and he will come near, though sometimes I’ve just got to sit in certain spots and he comes finds me. TOUCH: That’s so sweet. How long do you two stay out here for?

MAGGIE: All right. Take care of yourselves.

Sometimes I don’t sleep for days because I am afraid for my life on the streets.

S P E A K I N G W I T H C A R O L As we left King’s Cross, we decided to head somewhere more Central. We met Carol sitting on a street right in the middle of the Strand, near Charing Cross underground station. It was during the busy lunch hour and people were passing right by her, jumping over her bedding and belongings without so much as a glimpse in her direction:

TOUCH: Hello. We’re putting together a magazine on homelessness as experienced by individuals in London. Do you mind if we ask you a couple of questions? CAROL: Sure, why not. TOUCH: So, how do you find people are towards you? CAROL: Some people are very generous and then other people can be just scumbags! I seen certain guys look at us like beggars, find us sleeping on the street and then harass us, kick us as they walk past. One of my homeless friends had a little dog - they picked up the dog and shoved it up against the wall, while he was asleep. TOUCH: Oh, no, that is terrible! Do you have anyone that looks after you? CAROL: I feel like people that are homeless actually care more and they give more and even if they’ve got little, they give the little that they have. TOUCH: Is that your personal experience? CAROL: YES! Dead right. People who don’t have a lot, give what they can, and I don’t think it’s right because if you don’t have a lot it’s impossible to give the little bit you have.



TOUCH: That makes sense. Have you tried to get help from the council? What about living in a hostel or council flat? CAROL: Well, not really. I say to people: “You’re living in a house - great”. But me going into a house? It’s going to be strange for me living in a house since I grew up on the streets. I know it’s wrong to live on the streets, but that’s all I know. TOUCH: So even if you were given a house, you still wouldn’t stay there because you’re so used to being on the street?

People that are homeless care more and give more, and even if they’ve got little, they give the little that they have.

CAROL: I’m sorry, yes. I’m too used to being on the street. TOUCH: So what would it take for you to change and live in a place like a shelter or a community living space or anything like that? CAROL: I really, honestly, don’t know. I wish I did. I’m so used to being out here. I’m driven by what’s out here. It’s sad, I know. TOUCH: So is there something about being out here? Do you feel like there’s a sense of wilderness or something? CAROL: I think if I was in a house and I was on my own, with a life of my own, I wouldn’t like that. At least out here, if I die somebody knows it. I know, that’s a really sad way to look at it all, but oh well. TOUCH: It’s always interesting to hear such beliefs. We are trying to understand whether it’s worth advocating for homeless individuals to get temporary housing or a permanent residence? It’s always a question we wanted to ask homeless individuals, so it’s good to hear your version.

CAROL: And having a key to a whole house is cool. That’s brilliant, but trying to maintain it is very expensive, especially if you haven’t maintained a home before. TOUCH: Yes, we can imagine. You’ve never maintained a home and then all of a sudden you have to do it with no support system. CAROL: It’s not easy - you’ll f*** up, and I don’t like f*** up because it messes up my head. TOUCH: What are your ways of earning an income? CAROL: The Big Issue. I have tried it. I tried it in Edinburgh, I tried it in Birmingham and Nottingham. TOUCH: That’s great. How has your day been so far? Have you had anything to drink or eat? Do people usually give you more money or more food? CAROL: A bit of both I think. Not sure really. And, I haven’t had anything to eat for a while. TOUCH: What’s your favorite thing to eat? CAROL: My favorite is McDonald’s chips, with sweet & sour sauce. TOUCH: And who’s that guy that just stopped to speak to you? CAROL: He's one of my friends, he’s homeless too. They constantly keep an eye on me, you see. TOUCH: There you go Carol, a large cheeseburger with fries and you’ve got more than enough sweet and sour sauce to make you smile all afternoon. [Laughter] CAROL: Thank you so much guys!

TOUCH: Our pleasure. And thank you too Carol for your time today. CAROL: Thank you, will I get to see these pictures you’re taking and a copy of the magazine? TOUCH: Sure, we can drop off a copy to you here when it’s finished? CAROL: Yes please. TOUCH: Okay Carol, take care of yourself. CAROL: I will do my best, I will try. God bless you guys.

S P E A K I N G W I T H J A S O N As we’re walking down the Strand, we came across a man with a dog. Jason was sitting outside a theatre, not looking at anyone. The only thing that had his attention was his book:

TOUCH: Hello. What are you reading there? JASON: It’s just a copy of Game of Thrones. I bought it many years ago. I love reading. I used to go to the library to borrow books but now I don’t have an address which I need to access the library books. So I just save up money and buy books. TOUCH: Is that so? Which book are you on? JASON: Yeah, I love reading. I love this book series. I’m going to get book seven. I’m on book six now. TOUCH: Do you enjoy it? JASON: Definitely, I have free time, right? [Laughter] So I spend it reading. TOUCH: That’s great that you love reading. JASON: Well, I don’t have a TV, obviously. [Laughter] TOUCH: Jason, could you tell us a little about yourself? How did you come to living on the streets? JASON: Probably because my wife left me. I caught her with another man and she left me. So, here I am. TOUCH: How long ago was that? JASON: Six, maybe ten years ago, I think.



TOUCH: Oh wow. And where was home for you? Where did you grow up?

TOUCH: That’s good, right? That some people stop and chat with you?

JASON: On the East coast of England.

JASON: Yeah, I guess so.

TOUCH: All right. Have you travelled around a lot over the years?

TOUCH: Have you always stayed on the streets or do you sometimes stay in night shelters?

JASON: Yeah, well, I’ve lived all over the place. TOUCH: What about London then? Do you have people around here that you know? JASON: Not that many. TOUCH: We have spoken to a few homeless people who said that they felt like part of a community. JASON: Some people do. Some people don’t. TOUCH: That’s fair. So how do you spend your days? JASON: As you know, I like reading and my dog. And sometimes, people stop and say hello and have a quick chat with me.

JASON: No, just the streets for me. TOUCH: Do you feel safe around here? JASON: No, I really don’t. I’m on the roadside and here you can get attacked by drunks who want to beat you up just for a laugh. TOUCH: That’s terrible! Why not stay in a shelter then? JASON: I just feel safer out here, I guess. I like nature, used to have a nature business. TOUCH: What kind of nature business did you have?

JASON: I was in tree-changing, landscape, gardening and stuff. I was self-employed. TOUCH: Do you miss it? Would you do it again? JASON: Don’t know really. TOUCH: Ok, well we don’t want to take up too much of your time. Thank you for speaking with us today. JASON: Yeah, thanks for stopping to have a chat.

I have my dog. I love her. Always there for me. Seeing her every day, I ain’t got to worry. She’s a good dog. TOUCH: One last question before we go. You’ve been on the streets for a few years like you said, is there anything that you’re grateful for? Obviously, in spite of what you’re going through, what’s that one thing you’re grateful for? JASON: Well, I have my dog, she’s called ‘Mrs’. I love her. Always there for me. Seeing her every day, I ain’t got to worry. She’s a good dog. She always keeps me company. TOUCH: She’s a beautiful dog. JASON: Thanks guys. Take care. TOUCH: Thanks for your time Jason, we will give you a copy once it’s finished.

S P E A K I N G W I T H MON ICA Our last stop was Brixton. After having been to a buzzing, tourist-populated Camden and Strand, we were curious to see what South of the River looked like. Here we met Monica, who longed for the ‘old Brixton vibe’. So much for gentrification:

TOUCH: How have you found living in Brixton over time? Has it changed a lot? MONICA: It’s changed now. Many of my friends left, the government pushed them out of the town here. TOUCH: What else has changed here? MONICA: Everything’s changed. Before, you’d be here to eat food from Brixton market, fresh cooked food, socialise with your friends and neighbours. It used to smell so good out here! TOUCH: What about now? Do you have somewhere to stay, get some food? MONICA: Yes, here and there. TOUCH: That’s good. So you don’t have to sleep on the streets? MONICA: No. I find shelter where I can. TOUCH: We met a lot of people and some of them have dogs or other animals that keep them company. MONICA: But can they take care of the animals? I see a lot of them animals loiter in the streets, sleeping rough and hungry. And where is the food for both of them? TOUCH: A lot of them say they look after themselves as a community. They’re around people that they see every day, and at least people come and speak to them.


MONICA: That makes sense. TOUCH: Speaking of community. During Christmas time, there’s more shelters open, right? Do you have any plans for Christmas?

TOUCH: Monica, that’s beautifully said. It’s been a pleasure to meet you. Thank you for giving us your time. MONICA: God Bless.

MONICA: I don’t plan to do anything. All you have to do is pray, right? TOUCH: Yes. [Laughter] Forget the expensive gift-giving right?! MONICA: Damn right! [Laughter] TOUCH: Monica, could you please tell us what’s the one thing that you’re grateful for every day? MONICA: Yes. I give God thanks and praise. When you wake up and some people can’t get up - you are blessed. As long as I’m coming in and out of sleep and breathing, I’m thankful.

I give God thanks and praise. When you wake up and some people can’t get up - you are blessed. As long as I am breathing, I am thankful.