I met Michael* outside King's Cross Station late one Tuesday evening. Despite the warmth of the May evening, he wore fingerless gloves and a padded denim jacket. He initially asked me for money as he wandered around approaching strangers for charity. He was polite, articulate and clearly conscious of the indignity of being dependent upon begging from strangers.
Michael has been living on the streets for several years, long enough to have seen changes. Many of the places where he had formerly found shelter were no longer open, either shuttered off or subject to being moved on by the police or security guards. Former soup kitchens were no longer operating and, with no access to cooking facilities, food banks could not offer much help.
Michael had served ten years in prison before being released on parole. At the age of 40 he had spent most of his adult life either in prison or sleeping rough. But he felt powerless to alter his situation. He told me he felt angry and bitter, but outwardly he was calm and composed. He had a perceptible air of resignation to his fate.
He explained that the biggest problem he faced in escaping his situation was that he could not prove who he is. With no birth certificate, driving licence, passport, bank account, utility bill, reference from an employer or landlord or even a person of "good standing" to vouch for him, he was unable to prove his identity and therefore verify his entitlement to any support.
I asked him how he could be helped, beyond being dependent upon small handouts. He had no answer. Somebody who had spent years living on the streets, with all of the associated health risks, simply had no ideas as to how he could be helped to change his life.
I asked if he had an email address or contact number, but he had neither. He shook my hand and walked away to ask the next person for some change. If he got change I don't know, but probably not the change he really needs and so clearly wants..