One year on and poet Sean is back on the lonely and friendless streets
Intrusive and uncomfortable, it niggled at you with every step as you fought your way through the rotting stench of sun drenched bins, overflowing on to the high street.
My heart skipped a beat as I spotted him lying in a doorway. Plastic suits, stuck to their soulless owners in the heat, made their way into the Tesco Express next door.
No particular regard for a sight seen every day, as regular a part of the landscape as the flowing bin juice.
I crouched beside him as he took a moment to focus on my face. The warm smile I’d been greeted with a year earlier replaced by a confused strain.
He did eventually recognise the stranger who stepped from the crowd to talk to him, but he wasn’t pleased to see me – or for me to see him.
In January, I wrote in this paper of my encounter with a homeless man called Sean.
Sean caught my attention, in what has become a sea of torn sleeping bags and worn blankets, with his poetry.
I stopped that chilly November evening and we discussed the words he’d written, his life and, with an unexpected optimism, his future.
When his wife and rock died suddenly several years ago, Sean found himself without a job and in with the wrong crowd. He was on a path to a better life, though, recognising where he’d gone wrong and taking part in a council scheme to get a house, get back on his feet and on with his life.
It was clear, as he sat in front of me, that the bad crowd was winning.
I looked into his eyes and saw nothing. There was a vacancy where there had once been a soul.
His Manchester accent was somehow more piercing than before. He wasn’t happy to see me, rejecting my enthusiastic offer of a sandwich.
The momentary self-righteousness of expecting to ride in with a £3 meal deal and a packet of dried fruit to the sound of military fanfare and a certain trip to the palace to pick up my knighthood, was shot down in flames.
“I’ve had enough sandwiches. I get 20 a day. They’re bunging me up!”
He confessed his bad mood and moved to smarten himself up. He’d struggled to find a spot to settle himself that evening and was in pain from a cut on his ankle.
He was agitated, too, I suspect, from finding it difficult to get a hit.
I’d lost touch with Sean after a promising start. I made some effort to contact him through his family and we met up several times.
I told him to keep writing and I would set up a meeting with somebody who could help. Then the replies stopped. My attempts to reach him were met with an eerie silence. He tells me his family has gone quiet on him after they suspected him of selling his tent for drugs. He claims it was stolen, but the jury is out.
Sean, by his own admission, is in a terrible place. Locked into a life of crack cocaine, his efforts to meet with the council’s drug teams are dashed by their devastating cut in resources.
He’d turn up and they wouldn’t. That only needs to happen once for an addict to find a reason not to go again.
The desire to help yourself is far outweighed by the desire to find a hit. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.
I had, originally and naively, expected to be his saviour.
That a few column inches and sounding enthusiastic on the radio would throw him the line he needs.
Although it is hard to admit through this keyboard and will no doubt be harder to read once in print, I must be honest with you – I had to dig deep to find my compassion.
I was angry with him. I have tugged and torn at these thoughts for days afterward.
Shoving them around my mind. How could I find it so difficult to tower over this broken man and feel anything but his pain?
I was angry that he had allowed himself to be the architect of his own downfall in this way.
Angry at the Government’s tortuous cuts to local drug units. Frustrated with his family for their failed interventions.
I see Sean regularly now - in doorways and propped up against lamp posts.
I tended to his ankle wound and bought him some new shoes, but what next?
That late summer evening, the daunting size of the mountain that lay ahead for Sean, looked me square in the eye.