Lee,
HMV, Hull

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Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m 43 and from Hull. I’ve been selling Big Issue North for about three years.

‘I help my mum to dress my dad and we go fishing together.’

How did you end up homeless?
Drink and drugs really. I split up with my partner and ended up in hostels. And then it’s just a downward spiral. I got stuck in a rut, hanging abut with the same people and doing the same thing day in day out. It becomes ridiculous, but you don’t see that – you’re just trying to get through each day. I was staying in a tent at one point on my own and then it was even worse because I had no one to talk to, and I’ve got mental health problems as well so it was really hard work.

How does selling the magazine help?
Well, it gets me by financially. I got benefit sanctioned because of some health problems and I missed an appointment because a letter got sent to my old address. So I’ve only had one benefit payment this year, but at least I’ve got a bit of money coming in from selling the magazine. And Big Issue North is a good little family. There are a few people who sell the magazine who I can talk to, who I trust. And the people in the office are really nice. They come and say hello to me on my pitch and check that I’m OK. It’s good to know that someone cares.

Where do you live now?
I was living in a shared house but I’m living at my mum and dad’s again at the moment. But they are moving into supported accommodation in August so I’ll need to find somewhere else to live. Hopefully I’ll move into my auntie’s for a bit until I get my own place. I don’t want to go into a shared house again because for the last five years I’ve been in three different ones – and they just aren’t safe. People come into your room when you are not there and take things. I used to visit my mum and dad and take my TV with me over the weekend because otherwise someone would take it.

Tell us about your mental health problems.
I’ve got anxiety, I’m bi-polar and I’ve got OCD. The more stressed I get, the worse my OCD gets. I sometimes have to count to a certain number or get dressed a certain way and if it goes wrong I have to start all over again. What gets you the most is that you know it sounds crazy but there’s nothing you can do about it. I suppose I used to use drink and drugs like a security blanket. But these days I’ve tried to put things to the back of my mind. But it’s difficult, really difficult. I’ve sorted out the drink and drugs problem and now I want to sort out my mental health as well and get some support with that.

What do you do in your spare time?
My dad had a stroke about eight years ago. It was really bad and he’s paralysed down one side and can’t talk properly. So I help my mum to dress and look after him. And I take him in his wheelchair and we go fishing together.

Do you have a message for your customers?
Just keep buying it and keep smiling. It’s good when people just say hello to me. That makes a difference. I’ve come a long way these last few years. My customers used to see me begging around town and they tell me that they can see how hard I’ve worked to get where I am now.

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