Wyn Newman – User Involvement Manager
Last Thursday I attended the commemoration service at St Martin’s for people who had died during the year who were or had been homeless.
One of the 150 names read out was that of Martin. I had got to know Martin when he started coming to our Friday afternoon rough sleepers group nearly 10 years ago.
I did not know Martin beforehand but I knew he had a serious drink problem and found it difficult to cope with the busy daycentre.
The deal on a Friday afternoon is that no one is going to talk to you about your housing, your drinking, your benefits claim or any of those reasons workers usually have for starting a conversation.
Martin was a big bear of a man with a big bushy beard, a very gentle giant.
Martin was absolutely clear about two things, he was not going to stop drinking and he was not going into a hostel.
Martin drank strong lager everyday and his mood and ability to communicate depended where in his cycle of drinking you found him. When he got it wrong he would curl up in a corner and go to sleep for the afternoon. When he got it right he was articulate, funny and insightful. He could talk knowledgeably about literature and philosophy. When in the right mood Martin would enjoy his afternoon, have something to eat, get his clothes washed and have a shower. Sometimes the clothes were beyond washing so he was fitted out with something new. We saw another side of Martin, one others were not lucky enough to know about.
I know he had been fished out of the Thames on at least one occasion and I accepted that he would probably end his days on the street.
At the time we were very lucky to have a volunteer reflexologist who attended the group, called Faith. Faith was infinitely patient with people. She spent time getting to know people. She would build trust with the people who then chose to find out about reflexology. Martin was not keen on the idea but eventually succumbed to Faith’s persistence.
In my view this was the start of the changes that occurred in Martin’s life. He struggled with the therapy. It would reveal deeply hidden fears that Martin had kept well hidden for many many years. He would tell me he would not have the therapy again because of the feelings it produced, but Martin did have the therapy again. He had to deal with these feelings if he wanted to experience the benefits of the reflexology. He was making a very real and hard choice.
Martin never stopped drinking but he did eventually move into St Martin’s House in Clapham. Martin enjoyed the independence that the house offered and Matthew and Lynn were around when needed. When his health deteriorated he moved to a care home. I visited Martin a few times in Clapham but then lost track of him until I heard of his death earlier this year. I feel privileged to have known Martin.