This is Stuart.
I didn’t know his name when he was crossing the road near Trafalgar Square on Friday evening.
My initial reaction was ‘A loony – a homeless low-life drunkard’.
I walked up the road behind him.
He finally went to a corner where there was a bench, sat down, and opened a bottle of alcohol, validating my opinion of him as a typically drunk and homeless beggar.
I felt silly walking behind him taking pictures, and snapping from afar, so I approached him and offered him a Kit Kat bar. He looked up and said ‘why, thank you!’, in an eloquent and well-spoken manner.
He was alert and attentive, and he asked me for my name, where I was from and where my family originated from. We got into a conversation and on to the topic of why he was in this situation – dressed in a blanket and living on the streets.
He said he could get a council flat if he wanted but he chose to live in this manner – he preferred the freedom he had on the streets. He admitted to having a drinking problem at the moment, and explained how he’s going through a rough patch, in the same way we all do. He also said he was working on this problem. He was very knowledgable and I felt I was having a conversation with an intelligent and wise individual. We spoke of homeless people in other countries including India, the current situation in Uganda, and the UK.
I asked if I could take a picture and he was fine with it, although he had appeared apprehensive to begin with.
He asked me to publicise him and let the world see how he lives and what he’s about. I’m not sure I fully understand his cause and I was in a bit of a rush to meet some friends, but I hope I bump into him again. I’d like to ask him a few more questions, such as where he gets money from to buy all the grocery shopping that he had, and what he did before he lived on the streets. He seems to have had a good education which makes the fact he’s homeless all the more bizarre.
It’s funny how we have these preconceptions of homeless people, although they’re not without reason. I wouldn’t dream of approaching many of the homeless people here London, because most of them are dangerous junkies who I’d assume would smash my camera.
Stuart is a complete exception, despite the fact his appearance is more extreme than any of the other homeless people I’ve seen on the streets of this city.