On the way home from a fabulous meal with some old and new friends in town I was asked if I wanted to buy a Big Issue by a young woman. She was clutching a single, ragged copy of the homeless magazine and I jokingly said "but you're gonna keep that aren't you?" She said "yes, it's the only one I have but I need money for a hostel".
I hear this line all the time and have wondered exactly what the mechanics of it are. So I asked, we got chatting, and I was told, in great detail.
Ten months ago she was a normal kid in high school doing her A-levels, English, History, and Music. She plays piano to Grade 7 and wants to be a music teacher. She did Maths A-level as well (that's right, four A-levels; think about that the next time you're passing a homeless person) but only because she fancied the tutor.
As her mother descended into drug addiction she ended up in foster care and after age 18, a legal adult, she ended up on the streets. In the last three months she's been beaten, stabbed, and a few weeks ago, raped.
Her stabbing came from a guy who sold her (without her even knowing!) while she was sat on a bench. "You have to spend 24h with that guy, I just got paid £70 so off you go, when you're done you'll get your cut". Saying "no" resulted in her cut being a stab wound in her crotch slicing both her femoral artery & vein. Thanks to a passerby who knew exactly what to do she staunched the wound and ended up in intensive care.
The rape was recent enough for me to see her thighs covered in bruises and cuts - it looked horrid. The stabbing, while healed, left a deep puncture hole in her leg.
After we first met I walked her to a hostel which is very close to where I'm living and paid her £19.70 hostel which apparently buys seven days accommodation and some entitlement to benefits (the details I don't recall in the blur of her explanation). We wandered back to my place and I offered her some food and we chatted, where I heard the whole story. The most tragic was listening to her wishing, through angry desperate tears, how she could rewind the last year.
I set her up with a Gmail account and we wrote a piano lessons ad in Gumtree. Who knows, cross fingers. If you need a smart, intelligent, able pianist, I'd suggest giving her a call.
(Originally posted on my Facebook profile)