Interview by Alex Waygood, Joanna Engle and Christopher Hill
‘I’m trying to get accommodation, but as a single male I’ve got no chance in hell…’
We meet Angelis in North Oxford. He lets us interrupt his reading to tell us about his experiences…
Are from Oxford?
No. Liverpool and Italy. But I’ve been down here, sixteen years now.
Why did you come sixteen years ago?
I woke up drunk in this doorway… Eighteen years ago I lost my wife and son to a drunk driver. He came up onto the pavement and pinned us to a wall. My son died instantly and then my wife died an hour later, internal bleeding. I couldn’t cope, so I drank. And I drank and I drank. I’ve been sober now for a 3 years and 7 months. Bloody hard staying sober, I don’t mix with anyone anymore, keep myself to myself. I talk to a lot of students, they help me out a lot, they’re nice people. That’s about it usually, that’s what I talk about. But, like, I’m trying to get work again, but it’s hard. Trying to get accommodation, but as a single male I’ve got no chance in hell, and that’s wrong.
What resources are available in Oxford?
There used to be a lot of resources at one time, but there’s not anymore. A lot of them have been cut down. There’s a night shelter with 39 rooms, but you have to have a connection with Oxford or be exempt from a connection. In other words, you’ve got to be born in Oxford. But this is where the stigma comes, what I say now, I’m not being racist by saying this, what they do is, they put Polish men and stuff on the streets first – hello sir, hello travel bruv, good to see ya!
[A friend of his stops and chats]
He’s one of my best friends, he is. He was out here four years ago. He ended up on the street, he didn’t know anything about the street. And I showed him how to live, where to make his money, how to beg. Even though it’s against the law. Because we don’t get benefits a lot of us anymore, because, we’re being like, when you don’t turn up to job interviews or an appointment, they cut your benefits. I don’t get any benefits at all now, it takes the piss. So what I get it, I don’t ask for change anymore, if they’re prepared to buy me a coffee or some food, or even giving money towards a bed at night, I am grateful. But the police say it’s illegal so they’ll arrest you and you get fined for it.
You mentioned before about night shelters?
There’s one night shelter. There used to be a couple of places but they closed two of them down now, this is what I mean. Two of them had a hundred rooms in them, but they’ve been closed down. They’ve turned one into an immigration house and one for students, sorry to say that. But they made it for students. And that’s wrong.
I do one afternoon at the OxFam bookshop. I get free books. I do work for the- yeah, he’s a brilliant guy. I do things like clearing books, stacking them up inside the shop. I don’t go into the shop or work behind the till, because, people don’t like it, you know what I mean, they don’t think it’s right that I’m the only person in there. But the owner is wonderful. He lets me use it as an address so I can get mail sent there, and he gets students to write to me from all over the world. I’ve had emails, because I don’t know how to use a computer so, he comes in and gives me a list of emails. He’s pretty good.
I only learned to read fifteen years ago – he taught me how to read. The morning he woke me up, when I woke up here, I didn’t know where I’d been for two years, I’d drank that much. My mind was blank. And he helped me go to rehab, he got me into a rehab, got me clean and sober. But, the reason I don’t use the shelter? Is because they’re out drinking from nine in the morning to ten at night down there, and it’s not a good place for me. If I’ve had a bad day, I don’t want to be around people like that, it’s not nice, it’s hard.
Like I said, the shelters, if you haven’t a connection you can’t use the shelters. But the guy, I went to tidy up and he opens the doors for when I go for all nighters, and that helps. Because a lot of places, put up gates, metal gates, on the places where the homeless sleep, like on the Cornmarket, you know where you see them sleep? They’re going to put gates there, well that floor’s heated. So when they close them gates up and you can’t get there, what’s going to happen to the homeless? I’ve had pneumonia three time out here and because of it, I’m waiting for a triple bypass. Because of that, it’s caused problems of my heart. I’ve got a leaky heart valve, my heart valve is leaking inwards.
On an unrelated note, what book are you reading?
I’m reading Terry Pratchett Equal Rites. I just started it. I’ve read it about four times, I like him, he’s a good writer. It’s a shame he died, he was bloody brilliant author.
Do you have a favourite book?
I do, Darren Shan The Vampire Apprentice. I love them. I think they’re brilliant. They’re in the kids’ section but a good story is a good story.
Other than that, I do bikes up for students, I do them up. I buy bikes from students, I sell bikes to students. It’s the only way I can make a bit of extra money. But a lot of people don’t like buying stuff from homeless people because they think parts are stolen. But that’s my selling point – the bikes are stolen. All my bikes I buy are from the police station, from Bumblebee Auctions, and all the bikes are stolen. So I buy them from the police and do them up, so they are stolen in a way. But not by me. When I say to them “the bikes are stolen”, they’re all “no, I don’t want them” and when I explain they’re like “oh”. I always give receipts, I’ve got a little book that I give to the police sometimes so that they can go check the bikes are running alright. I like that the police do that thought, because it makes me look good as well.
Where do you sell the bikes from?
I’m always here. They usually get locked at night as well, the bikes. They’re anywhere from 50-150. I’ve got a nice one round there that I ride myself, it’s TT, carbon-fibre. Very nice, I like it. Keeps me going.
When a student is worried about the money being spent on a bed, I always bring the receipt back the next day. It stops the student worrying. That’s the way I like to do it. It’s getting harder now for homeless people to get into Bed and Breakfasts’ because the owners don’t want to see homeless people. And that’s wrong. It’s happening quite a lot. And accommodation is so hard to come by. Can I give you some advice? Barges, boats on the river. People go “oh, it’s on the river, it’s going to be cold”. Some of the barges are bloody beautiful inside. And its 139 for a week rent and 30 a month for gas, electricity and petrol. Thirty pound a month – that’s cheaper than any landlord in Oxford. I had one about three years ago, that’s what I’m saving up for now. Every bit of money I get goes in the bank to save up for that. As a single male, I have 7-12 years to wait for a flat, and I’ve already been waiting 15 years. So doesn’t that say something?
You mentioned earlier there are fines for homeless people when they’ve been arrested?
That comes out of people’s benefits. That’s why I’ve got no benefits left. I was supposed to be getting 220 pounds a fortnight, by the end I was getting 47 pound a fortnight and after the last fine that left me 13 pound a fortnight to live on. How can you live on that? I just leave it in the bank now. I’ve left it there for six months now and eventually I’ll just go take it all and that will get me a bed.
To find out more about homelessness in Oxford, you can visit http://www.oxhop.org.uk