‘Being Homeless’ by Eric Harper

Going Home

A month or so after the police activity died down, Jane began to find out about income support. She had, up until that time, never claimed benefits. She told me she was in the process of getting on top of things. She had started spending time at home with her family. She had decided to return to her flat, which she did for three weeks. When I next saw her, we had the following conversation.

Jane: Hello. What do you think about Di? Terrible, isn’t it? I went and laid my flowers. There’s going to be a service in the cathedral today.

Eric: It was a shock for everyone.


Jane: The Day Center throws out younger people when they drink. They have a thing about the younger ones, believe them to be more trouble.

Jane: I’m spending more time at home with my children. I was off the drink for two weeks. My son then stole my Hi-Fi and TV and sold them so he could go away with his friends. That’s when I relapsed. I took a hit of heroine. It was just a one-off.


I went away with friends to Nottingham. A friend is opening a pub and has offered me a job. But I think I’ll stay in London so I can be near my kids. [She tells me about her adventure in Nottingham]


I’ve been spending a lot of time with my mother. I see her every day. It’s really nice. I cooked a lovely lunch. [Tells me all about the lunch. Then about her relationship with her mother, how close they are, but her mother can only accept certain aspects of her. She says she doesn’t know what she’ll do when her mother dies].


She tells me she’s spending time with her friends where she lives. They are very different from her friends at the doorway, the friends at home are ex-drug addicts.

Eric: You have friends from different worlds?

Jane: It’s nice to be connected to old friends. I think I want to spend more time at home. Would you visit me there?

Eric: Perhaps we could meet half way, in a coffee shop.

Jane: I’m getting off the booze, I think I’m getting more ready to work again. [We talk about work, what she wants to do, what she’s done in the past, etc. She says she’s worked in a benefits agency before. There is then a long conversation about hair, I don’t remember the details. At one point she remarked that she preferred my hair with the streaks]. Jane: I can’t stand my son’s girlfriend. I get on with everyone, but I can’t stand her. She bosses everyone around. I told her, ‘No-one fucking talks to my son like that’. I don’t know, Eric, it’s really strange. I really don’t like her. I normally get on with everyone.’ [She then spoke about looking after Clive’s benefit book, because when he gets drunk, people steal from him. Clive had been picked up by the police a few times over the past week] It’s my birthday soon’ [She tells me the date of her birthday]. It’s a bit better at my house, I don’t feel so bad about being there. My son lives next door. When I go into the front room it still upsets me [Robert was kicked to death in the front room]. I like all the flowers that people are giving Di. I want to go to the service tonight. Di was the patron of the homeless, you know.

The Letter in the Name of the Law When I next encountered Jane she was very distressed. Her boyfriend had beaten her and she had reacted in a way she had never done before – she called the police and got an injunction against him. It was around this time that we have our first meeting off the street. I was with a colleague, Mrs Bee.

I suggested that we get a coffee at Macdonald’s. Jane emphatically said she would not drink coffee so she took her can (of beer) into the shop. She was smoking too in a mischievous manner. She asked for an apple pie that she would eat later because they are too hot to eat right away.

She commented on Mrs Bee’s multicoloured gloves that she likened to her multicoloured fingernails. Jane then began to go into details about Robert’s death. He had been kicked in the head, kicked to death. She then switched to speaking to speaking about the death of her former boyfriend, Andrew. She began to sob and said that according to her mother the worst thing she had done at the time was to remove the sheet from Andrew’s body in the mortuary in order to check whether there had been an autopsy. She was still haunted by what she saw. But she had also replaced Andrew’s three earrings that had been previously removed in a police line-up, and she had combed his hair.

Mrs Bee asked what Andrew was like. Jane said they were together for about eight years and that he had never once hit her. He had wonderful long hair which he would wear in a pony tail and he enjoyed it when she combed it at night into plaits. This was followed by some discussion of how she spent her time in the flat on her own.

She had tried to overdose on heroine straight after Andrew’s death. But she did not want to die now, she said, because she was going to become a grandmother and wanted to see her grandchild grow up (she had two sons from her first husband to whom she had been married at 19 when she ‘knew nothing.’) She described how her first husband knocked all her front teeth out (except one) because he knew her teeth were something she was proud of. She had had to get stitches.

There was some discussion about the boyfriend she had been beaten by. She said she had got the police onto him at least twice since his last attempt to hurt her. Even if it meant she might get duffed up a bit, she would keep on denouncing him if he came near her. She then recounted how he had tried to bite her nose off. Men seem to have literally attempted, and even manage, to remove parts of Jane’s face. Mrs Bee asked how he had managed to do this. She laughed, and said, ‘With his teeth!’ We all laughed. She told us that he had forced his way through her front door, and on her jumped on her and bitten her really hard. If he had bitten her lower down, into the cartilage at the tip he may well have bitten off the end of her nose. She then repeated that she wasn’t going to put up with men doing that to her anymore. She now had a letter from the domestic violence unit – a letter denoting symbolic law.

After this session we met a few more times on a one-to-one basis in coffee shops. We spoke about another very close (homeless) friend who had overdosed two weeks before. She appeared to be handing the death through the gift of speech. We also spoke about my leaving London in the near future and returning to South Africa.