Homelessness feature: 'I don't choose to live life this way'

The reasons people end up living on the streets are many and complicated. Reporter David Lee hears from one homeless man and speaks to the charity working to help rough sleepers and improve understanding of their plight.

Spending his days on the streets of Windsor and sleeping in shop doorways isn’t a lifestyle that Martin Allen chose.

For 17 years, the 46-year-old had been employed in Oxford, holding down jobs in a warehouse and in the security industry.

But in 2015, the work dried up and with Martin refusing to take benefits, he soon found himself homeless.

In November, he joined the worrying number of people who can be seen camped out on the streets of Windsor, with the shadow of Windsor Castle looming over them.

Recent media reports branded people in Martin’s situation as ‘tramps’.

But, during an interview given at The Windsor Homeless Project, he told the Express: “I don’t ask for money, I just sit there and people say ‘why are you here?’.

“We’re all human beings. It takes all different characters and that’s what makes this country so great.

“I don’t choose to live life this way but I try to make the most of it.”

Martin is one of about 18 people who can be expected to come through the door each day at the Windsor Baptist Church to seek help from the Windsor Homeless Project.

Murphy James, 34, took over as manager of the charity in 2016, with the aim of supporting the borough’s vulnerable people through their housing and employment struggles.

He said society needs to look at the reasons why people like Martin have ended up living in the gutter, rather than stereotyping them.

“To literally sit in the gutter and ask people for money, you have to have got to a certain point in your life and we need to be asking the question why this is happening to people,” Murphy said.

“Even if they’re not homeless, these are people crying out for help. It’s about seeing them as human beings who need help.”

Murphy pinpointed the UK’s ‘social care epidemic’ and the availability of mental health treatment as root causes behind the plight of some of the country’s most vulnerable people.

He added: “It’s all about mental health. The fact is, if somebody is an addict, addiction is an illness but it doesn’t get treated the same way as something like diabetes.”

Windsor resident Michael Boyle met Martin back in December and has since struck up a friendship which even saw the pair celebrate Martin’s birthday together on Wednesday, August 2.

Michael said: “If I was to be in a position where I didn’t have the support of my parents I could also end up in this scenario.

“It made me realise how close people can be to living on the streets.”

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