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‘A worse life than a stray dog’

A middle-aged man sleeping rough at an empty office building has a worse life than “a stray dog”, a Good Samaritan who keeps an eye on his welfare has said.

Deborah Smith, a retired government employee, added that Patrick Henderson, 58, a former foster child “outgrew the system”.

Ms Smith said: “We need somewhere for these guys to lay their heads and get fed.”

She was speaking after the deaths of four homeless people in the first three months of the year.

Ms Smith said: “Somebody goes to jail for killing somebody or molesting a child and they'll get three meals a day. Any medical attention they need, they get.

“For such an affluent society, we shouldn't have anybody laying out in the cold streets. We have so many empty buildings.”

Ms Smith admitted that she sometimes “couldn't even sleep — I even feel guilty eating”.

She said she had a family member with special needs who was “blessed because she has me and her family and the system to take care of her”.

She added: “But before her, I knew Patrick. He is not able to take care of himself. But if you don't come under the right umbrella, everybody just passes the buck.”

The Royal Gazette spoke to Mr Henderson last month at the building at the west end of Victoria Street that serves as a makeshift home.

He said he had been on the streets so long, he could not remember exactly when he became homeless.

Mr Henderson added: “I have to think — it's been a long time. Probably more than 15 years.”

Mr Henderson said there were “people who help me out”, but that he needed a pair of shoes.

He added that life on the street “sometimes gets rough”.

Mr Henderson used to earn some cash washing cars but now depends on help from others.

He said: “I try to get shelter, especially when it's cold. Sometimes I go to the Salvation Army. The people down there are nice.”

Mr Henderson, surrounded by his blankets and bags of possessions, said: “I come here sometimes, not all the time. Sometimes I'll stay around by Court Street.”

Martha Dismont, the executive director of the charity Family Centre, estimates that “hundreds” of squatters rely on derelict buildings for shelter.

Mr Henderson knew homeless man Reginald “Sonny” Furbert, who died in January, and Keith Peniston, who died in March after he was found collapsed on a city street.

He said: “It's rough for them all. Sonny was a good guy — everybody loved Sonny. His mom used to come around Court Street looking for him. It's tough.”

Mr Henderson said some homeless people were “staying in cars — and a lot of people were staying down at the dump”.

He added: “I prefer to be on my own.”

He explained: “You have to watch out for certain people. The young guys might take stuff.”

Randy Bean, from Pembroke, began to live on the streets in the 1980s after he was forced to leave his foster home when he turned 18.

The 55-year-old started to sell drugs after dropping out of school at 15 and his foster parents threw him out when he became an adult.

He said: “I lived on the land, lived in the bushes and I built something to call home.”

Mr Bean explained: “I felt that society didn't really have anything to offer me at that time because I went into the Rastafarian religion, so I was more focused on living off the land, repatriation, and learning how to deal with life skills.”

However, Mr Bean, who struggled with reading and writing, said his life took a downward spiral after he started to use heroin when he was 22.

He explained: “Somebody I was talking to said ‘hey look, try this dope out, it'll keep your manhood going', and so I tried it and I liked it, and I got hooked on it.”

Mr Bean added: “After the heroin is in your system, you need a hit every morning.

“It was disturbing. I was in a place where I couldn't read, I couldn't even really go out there and get a job because I was embarrassed because I didn't want certain people knowing that I wasn't a good reader.

“So you've got to depend on what you know — how to get over, how to hustle, how to scheme — just to make ends meet and I was in that category.

“It took the best out of me. It took the best out of my years. And then I hit rock-bottom, I had nowhere to stay.”

Mr Bean said he started on the road to recovery after a married couple introduced him to the Church when he was 28.

He added: “Somebody invited me to a service at the First Church of God and I gave my heart to the Lord, and from there my life made a U-turn.

He lived in Mission House in Paget to get clean until it closed in 2002. Mr Bean now lives with his family in Pembroke, works as a painter and gives motivational speeches to at-risk boys.

He said: “Something needs to be put in place so that these guys will hear other guys' stories that have been there.

“It shouldn't have to take them going to jail to find out that this is what it is and when they go to jail, they even come out worse.

“They need to know that outside of being on the street corner making money, there is more to life.”

Street life: Patrick Henderson, who sleeps rough around Hamilton, at his present shelter (Photograph by Jonathan Bell)

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Published May 01, 2019 at 9:00 am (Updated May 01, 2019 at 7:38 am)

‘A worse life than a stray dog’

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