Looking for Andrew (Journal 1)
I seem to spend much of my free time looking for Andrew. Today I spent twenty minutes of my lunch break searching his usual spots near the supermarket. Were the discarded coffee cups from yesterday, or this morning’s debris?
I met Andrew a few weeks ago, although ‘happened upon’ is perhaps a better word. I turned onto the High Street to the sight of a blonde woman speaking on a mobile phone, next to a young man spreadeagled on the pavement. His spindly outstretched leg was bleeding heavily from a wound at his ankle. I imagined I could see the bone.
I was later to discover that this was Andrew’s second public collapse in a fortnight, requiring a trip in an ambulance. They are spectacular events for those of us still conscious, but he has very little memory of the drama he inspired. I was able to put my first aid training into practice, easing him into the recovery position. It was like playing with a gangly and uncooperative doll.
He was still wearing the paper trousers they give you in hospital and not much more and managed to tell me that he had been discharged earlier that week. There was a black rucksack and a pair of brown boots in a carrier bag next to him. This was three weeks ago and I haven’t seen these items since, although the blood streaked duvet cover on which he was lying seems to be a permanent fixture. I’m finding this with Andrew: possessions disappear, to be replaced with new and not necessarily better things. Where is the wheeled suitcase he begged me to find for him? “At my friend’s house,” he told me yesterday. Perhaps he’s keeping it for best? Meanwhile, I’ve been introduced to Andrew’s impressive collection of carrier bags.
Andrew says he says Type 1 Diabetes, Andrew says he is homeless, Andrew says he is sleeping rough most nights, surfing sofas on others.
The first time I see Andrew after the ambulance episode, I feel immense relief. I had imagined all sorts in the week since I'd seen him taken away unconscious in the ambulance. I considered all the possibilities: diabetic coma, sepsis, drug overdose, that he was dead and unloved somewhere in a morgue, as many homeless people end up.
I offer to take him for a sandwich. Well, I offer to buy him a sandwich – it is he who asks me to join him. Andrew chooses the venue - a greasy spoon cafe by the train station and selects a table outside on the pavement. As I place the order, he begins to read one of the newspapers he uses to sit on when he's begging outside the supermarket.
The owner seems to know Andrew and like him. He knows what Andrew likes to eat – bacon, egg and sausage baguette and guesses what I'm going to ask for. He provides us with impeccible table service, placing the silver tray of food down gently, as though he has worked in more salubrious places. I look at the skinny, dishevelled homeless man opposite me and think this is the nearest thing to a date I’ve had in years.
Andrew smiles, showing his crooked, rotten teeth and politely asks, “Are you enjoying your food?” I am actually, but the tea is much too strong for me. “Put more milk in,” he suggests.
I’m on my lunch hour and there are only fifteen minutes left in which to eat my bacon sandwich. It’s time enough to ask about Andrew’s family background and his Diabetes. He was diagnosed with Type 1 seven years ago and is twenty-seven now.
Since the day of the ambulance I’ve realised that Andrew’s ankle was not as a result of falling, but a diabetic ulcer. He tells me between mouthfuls of fried egg that he spent two days in the hospital and that they then chucked him out, “because it isn’t a hotel.”
Did they provide him with insulin, I ask. “Not enough, it’s gone.” A way to monitor his blood sugar? No, he lost his ages ago. I am to discover over the weeks that he loses things constantly and what he doesn't lose is often stolen from him.
Andrew has been told that he can’t register with a GP because he doesn’t have an address, a driver’s licence or a passport. I’ve also been in this position and I am livid on his behalf.
This is a war on the poor, I tell him.
Andrew gestures towards the middle-aged man at the table behind us. “He’s homeless”, he tells me. The man looks ordinary, like he might have a job, a home and a family. When the man leaves, he shouts to Andrew, “there’s a sausage there if you want it.”
That’s kind, I say. “Isn’t it?” Andrew beams.
Andrew is cynical about the local homeless charity. “They won’t help me,” he says. How about the Council? “No, they say I’m intentionally homeless.”
I know this phrase. Two years ago, when I phoned the council in a desperate bid to prevent myself being made homeless, they told me that although I’d been served an eviction notice, if I left the house before that period, I would be making myself “intentionally homeless” and they wouldn’t be obliged to house me. The situation was this – they had no intention of actually doing anything until I had been evicted. I had no intention of going through this and went cap in hand to my ex-husband instead.
I decide that Andrew needs these things in order of priority:
- To stabilise his Diabetes
- To get his foot ulcers treated before they become infected
- To contact the council about housing
- To contact the local homeless charities
I decide that the housing situation seems less important than him not dying or losing a leg to gangrene, but I am later to be proven wrong. It is impossible to do one without the other.