This is the image I conjured up in my mind each time I fell asleep in the car park, with my sleeping bag and belongings positioned around me, so that anyone wanting to rob me would have to reach beneath my head or stretch over my body waking me up. So long as we were vigilant and careful there was no need for us to worry about thugs armed with knives I reasoned, plus of course there were always at least three or four or even five of us sleeping in the car park any one night, so what harm could we possibly come to?
What I didn’t picture was angry ex-homeless people turning up looking for the thieves who’d stolen their property ( a bike), drunk and angry boyfriends looking for girlfriends they were convinced had gone off with somebody else (all a figment of their wild imaginations) or people embroiled in lover’s mundane tiffs. In the first example, we lost four hours sleep talking to a guy who was convinced that if he talked for long enough the thief would turn up, since this particular floor of the car park was where he slept.
It took a very calm homeless woman talking to him for hours on end-whilst he occasionally flashed a knife-in order to calm him down. Having calmed himself down, he wandered on his drunken way leaving his kitchen knife behind him at the feet of the woman he’d woken up. This had to have been the third such incident we’d been present at and they always seemed to happen the same way. Being woken up in the early hours of the morning, by someone drunk and angry and waving a knife. Then having them scream, shout and rant on for a couple of hours about their grievances before wandering off leaving everyone else to calm their nerves and get some sleep.
In short, although the car park was warm, well-lit, had CCTV and visitors help points, it wasn’t the safest of places. Lucky for me then that in the rush to evict us, our former robbing landlords had bequeathed us all manner of household goods (including a knife).
Every evening we waited for two to three hours beneath a duel carriageway on the other side of train tracks and a railway station for the Salvation Army Soup Run to arrive. Now by this point we had been homeless in Poole for all of three months, and so we thought the underpass (that’s what they call it) was a perfectly reasonable place to sit, listen to the radio, and wait for the Salvation Army to turn up.
One night we were doing exactly that, when several intimidating people passed far too close to where we were sitting and one (pretending to be drunk) approached me and tried to grope me. Prior to this, a lot of rape threats & unwholesome approaches had been made by various very young and very old men ( I was to learn that I wasn’t the only homeless female having these encounters), this made me very alert to male strangers getting too close.
My reaction to his unwanted friendliness therefore? To back away and tell him to do the same, his response? To talk about niggers coming into his country and taking away his right to work, and how angry my lack of friendliness was making him. Richard’s response was to try and throw a punch and since it seemed highly likely that we were in the initial throes of getting robbed I reached into my….laptop case.
The abusive, racist, drunk (so I thought) stranger retreated, wandered back towards us then backed away and here was how the conversation went once he realised he’d gotten mired in a failed attempt at robbery,”You gonna shank me? You gonna shank me bruv? Go on then shank me!”.
Richard had been brave but he was terrified, I was terrified and enraged (we’d been minding our own business, sitting quietly in robber’s paradise) and eventually the failed robber wandered off down the nearby subway, where he miraculously sobered up and phoned the police to report my crime. According to him, he’d been wandering aimlessly towards the town centre via the underpass, when he encountered ‘a homeless black person’ who had threatened to ‘shank him’.
About twenty minutes later I was stopped and searched in strict accordance with the Police & Criminal Evidence Act and carted down to the local police station in a van. I had moved to Poole as I have done every place I’ve moved to, in order to find work and set up a home. In less than twelve months I’d been robbed twice, evicted once, experienced homelessness for the first time in my life and now I was under arrest for the possession of a bladed instrument.