Barry is the type of colorful character I could sit and talk to for hours. He is smart, and funny, and a bit brash, with a lifetime of interesting experiences to share.
I was invited to speak to a group of rough sleepers living in a homeless hostel. Meeting Barry and the rest of his mates was an experience I’ll never forget. When I walked in they were playing Invisible People videos on the wall. I was honored and grateful beyond words. But get this, my new rough sleeping mates were all drinking “cider” or beer and slightly buzzed. Some of them had other physical or mental challenges from being on the streets. They were all sitting around having a good time and being a little rambunctious, which the staff navigated with grace. It was a fun few hours.
The hostel we were in is a “wet hostel”, meaning clients are allowed to drink. There is an area for people who don’t want to be around alcohol, and there is an area for people who want to drink. I truly love this model of homeless services because an abstinence-based model doesn’t for people like Barry. Barry and his mates would be out on the streets, often in unsafe conditions and situations. Instead, chronic homeless people are inside and surrounded by staff who can intervene and help whenever needed.
It also helps people who are chronic alcoholics slow down their drinking and often stop. When you’re outside going to the bathroom behind a rubbish bin, might as well drink to forget. In a “wet shelter model” there is dignity and far more hope that the person will stop than being left sleeping rough.
Barry starts off talking about how when a person is rough sleeping the cycle of drinking is nonstop. He goes on and shares about once when he was sleeping rough, he was urinated on, shit on, and then his sleeping bag was set on fire. My heart broke when Barry first shared that story. Sadly, violence against rough sleepers and people experiencing homelessness is increasing.
Barry is also a client representative for the hostel. Barry says 9 times out of 10 when he brings up an issue about support services and the condition of the hostel, they listen. I really wish all homeless services would listen to the people we serve!Special thanks to St Mungo’s Broadway and Mencap.