Above is the sign I put up the first time I came to the drop-in centre. It is as much a message to myself as it is to others.
Give me a year, give me 10 years, give me a lifetime. To begin to look into a life is to open a box within a box within a box. It would take a lifetime to witness to a lifetime. I have one year. I am meeting people with both harsh and extraordinary lives. Short lives often. A week ago, people in the drop-in centre were recalling the young woman who, a few days before had been found dead in the multi-storey car park, just hours after the shoppers had filled their boots and driven away. She was in her 30s and had been in the drop in earlier, chatting, having her shoelaces tied, getting on with her day. Addiction and homelessness are bedfellows, not always, but often.
On the streets time seems to have a different quality. It expands and contracts simultaneously. It is measured by the opening of soup kitchens, the train ride to the next destination. Whole decades are lost through addiction. When those in rehabilitation meet families again, to their surprise the children are now adults, the adults are old, the old are gone.
Very few have ever owned a passport yet many of the people I meet have travelled to more destinations than the most globetrotting among us will do in a lifetime, criss-crossing the country many times, their names known in many places. One man created artwork on a project in Manchester only to find it resurface on the walls of a gallery in Canterbury some years later. Agency on such output is ephemeral, given up easily. I’m not sure through choice, through disinterest or through acceptance of the way it has to be. Why hold onto artwork when you own no wall on which to hang it?