THE DARRYL MORRIS COLUMN
ONE dark Sunday evening in late November, with the damp chill of winter hanging in the air, I scratched an itch that had been bothering me for a while.
Warmed by the company of good friends at a local haunt, I made my way home through the quiet streets, passing the sound of laughter leaking through the doors of bustling bars.
A faint cough caught my attention as I stumbled to avoid standing on a heap of torn sleeping bag.
Nestled within the mesh of fabric was a man. I nodded to apologise and walk on, as I had a million times before, when my eye caught bits of scattered paper and notebooks with a makeshift cardboard sign promoting something about poetry.
I knelt into the soggy pavement and picked up one of his poems. ‘Freedom is free’ it began, ‘Watching the zombies walk by, with every step their hearts die!’
I stopped to look up as he thrust out a hand and introduced himself as Sean.
No sooner had I crouched to my knees than an hour had past. His first conversation of the day, he said, at 9pm.
Six years ago, Sean was working as an engineer at BAE Systems. He was made redundant and tragically, lost his wife to a sudden illness at the same time.
He describes his wife as his rock and after she died, unsavoury friends from his past drifted back into his life.
He took a bad path and began to abuse drugs and alcohol. Twelve months ago, he found himself homeless.
He’d tried renting but was taken advantage of and now, clean for some time, he holds hope of a council house.
We talked about the process of applying for accommodation and how difficult it can be.
It works on a points system, awarded based on your situation, age, vulnerability and can also be won by taking part in courses and activities set up by homeless charities like Shelter.
He also talked about the abuse he receives living on the street. He tries to stay in open, busy areas for safety and stays on his own so as not to be tempted into
substance abuse by other homeless people.
He is regularly urinated on, spat at and physically and verbally abused.
Sean blew me away with his courage and his character, his honesty and his positivity in the face of the most crippling circumstances – and, not least, his talent. This man is an incredible poet. Some of his work hit me like a ton of bricks.
I bought this poem, Freedom is Free, and I’ve locked it away in a drawer.
It’s not surprise that Sean is struggling. Council budgets are squeezed so hard, you can practically hear the public services squealing.
We have a property market dominated by private landlords and the Government’s baffling decision to sell off council accommodation only serves to perpetuate the problem.
We have created a climate in which it is far too easy to fall to your knees and near impossible to hoist yourself back up.
Charity begins at home, they say, but what of those that have no home?
Street counts in 2014 suggest just 37 people sleep rough in the 14 Lancashire authorities.
It’s blatantly obvious that this figure is widely inaccurate. Street counts are stunted by strict safety guidelines and the counters can’t reach the whole town.
The inaccuracy of the figures leads to crippling levels of under funding; as far as they’re concerned, the problem is perfectly under control.
Homelessness is a scar on the conscience of society. It’s that bit of washing up we know we should probably deal with, that floorboard that creaks, but we’re busy,
In an age in which the handout has become a mudded ideal, we have to shift our thinking and lead the age of the hand-up.
Rich, poor, old or young, everybody deserves a hand up.
Because while people like Sean have a checkered past, they also have a future.
• Darryl Morris is a 25-year-old broadcaster and writer and host of ‘Darryl Morris in the Morning’ on 97.4 Rock FM, waking Lancashire weekdays from 6am to 10am.
His broadcasting career has taken in shows on XFM, Galaxy FM, The Hits Radio and the BBC before joining Rock FM in January 2015.
TV credits include Sky News, CBBC’s Newsround and he was the face of Chicago Town Pizza’s TV adverts.’