Being a rough sleeper in the west end from 13 years old.

I actually spent my 13th birthday around Victoria station when I was sleeping rough at the steps of the Apollo Theatre.
No doubt at night I made my way into what was then a recently opened 24-hour internet cafe across the road.

But as I explain in my book , I soon moved on from Victoria after personally discovering the more shadier aspects of living on the streets - and some of the risks I faced as a child/young teen runaway sleeping rough in London.


I then spent a few days or weeks sleeping all across the west end until I had decided to settle around the Green Park / Piccadilly area.
Although no child or young teenager should be living on the streets, I certainly could have chosen worse places, and the reason I had decided to settle down around Green Park was because of it's general feeling of safety.

Sure I still had people try to push drugs onto me, people offering money for sex and I was even robbed whilst laying down inside my sleeping bag by older middle-aged men... but still I'd felt safer there than being around the other areas of the west end where crack and heroin were rife.

I was skittish in my own way I guess until I'd discovered the day centre's a year or so later and started to make more friends.
But I think making new friends was what had kept me around Green Park anyway having being befriended by the nearby Evening Standard sellers and the lady working in the nearby Mercedes showroom whilst I was gouching on the steps of the tube station after hardly sleeping for months.

Those early days right before I met them were pretty dire... although I'd already learned to get a nights kip by making a cardboard box shelter - I think after what had happened to me in Victoria I generally felt unsafe sleeping out so would stay awake for so long that I'd often be falling asleep on train station steps whilst hallucinating from the sleep deprivation.

I'd mainly up until that point being getting by by pulling off my 'I need to get home which is miles away' scam outside the train stations. But after getting lifted by the undercover British Transport police it had started to put me off a bit.
Up until Green Park I hadn't discovered the homeless day centre's, soup runs and all that - and was only really begging when at my utter most desperate and hungry.

But once I settled around the Green Park area, it sort of became my sanctuary.
In my own way I enjoyed it, seeing my mates at the newspaper and flower stall and chatting to the same people that I saw every day.
Having the park right opposite me seemed somewhat a bit of a blessing considering the situation that I'd found myself in.
Even though I was sleeping in the doorway on Piccadilly, I was still able to join in with groups of people in the park that were playing football.
A rescued part of my youth so to speak.


By that time I was spending huge amounts of time in London without being caught and my doorway opposite Piccadilly was now somewhat my home.
When the weather wasn't too good or in the early mornings my chill-out space and washing facilities would be the nearby Starbucks which isn't there anymore.
The staff in there had started to get to know me a little in a way and would offer me the odd free coffee and drop me off a little something on their way home when they saw me in the doorway.


And of course, how could I forget the beautiful and brilliant family from Plantation in Florida.
A truly warm and magical moment throughout my times on Piccadilly and one of the events that humbles me that despite my own stories, things could have been so much worse there.
There were some truly magical souls, from all walks of life - such as the woman living in the nearby hotel residence that used to play scrabble with me on the side of the street, and Leah the hairdresser from Australia that invited me to come and live with her mates in Cricklewood.

And of course Matt Willis and James Bourne from the band Busted whom I remember taking me in off the streets one night to jam and chat with the lads.
James had given me his number and unknown to him that I was actually a runaway - he offered me to go on tour with the band.
Not that I would have passed through the security checks or managed to pull it all off, but one day I tried to call but the number had got soggy in my pocket and I couldn't see what I was dialing.
Some things are just not meant to be, but it was great to see them a year or so later when on the telly with a set of guitars and smashing it onstage.
I did indeed have a little chuckle and was to glad to know that they had made it.


Of course, there's much better ways to live your life than by sleeping on the side of a road.
Sometimes by doorway would be taken, but I was never one to mark my territory and there's plenty more doorways about.

At 33 years old now, I guess it's strange to think that for so long I slept among the sounds of footsteps, street-sweepers and passing traffic.
But however grim it sounds, I knew I'd be safer there than around Oxford Circus, Tottenham Court Road or Soho.


Anyhow, I'd just thought I'd share a bit of personal self-reflection about it all anyway.
If you've not already read Poems From a Runaway then you can read some samples of my book at https://benwestwood.wixsite.com/runaway/sample-poems

Signed copied available from my Wix site and it's also available on Amazon at https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1981314350










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