The 'bike man' is my cousin. I re-met him about six years ago in the city where he's been living most of his life. Aside from his bike, he was decked out in bike shorts and a tank top. His water bottle was filled with booze. He told us that he was 'nickin' like a chicken' and needed a cigarette. He was offered clothes and food, but didn't want them. He told us that he'd been living in an encampment (I am told that it was recently destroyed by arson) in town for some years up to that point, and receiving help both from friends in the area and a local shelter.
At the 'shelter' where I volunteer here in London, I see and meet a lot of people from Eastern Europe, and, of course, all over the UK. Clients from Western Europe are usually pretty scarce. There's a pensioner originally from Greece, an old punk rocker from Germany, and a young man of African origin who used to live in France who I see on a somewhat regular basis. The Greek man is lonely and on a fixed income, so our 1.50 hot lunches in a room full of people, telly blaring in the background, really hits the spot for him, the punk rock chick is 50 going on 20 with a safety pin through her ear, shit tats, patchy hair, and a 'fuck it' attitude, so I don't think that she gives a toss she's living somewhat hand-to-mouth, and the young man from France struggles with mental illness. Someone from the centre once found him wandering around the nearby high street without any shoes. Whatever he had been wearing had 'hurt his feet', so he ditched 'em and went sans footwear.
Today, I spoke with a man in his late 20s from Spain. I feel like he's sort of the 'canary in the coal mine' in that he's able-bodied, but without work (he's been looking), with little money, and he's from--get this--Mallorca. The severe downturns in the economy haven't seemed to put a dent in the waves of tourists that currently visit London, so it's hard to believe that there's NO work in Mallorca especially for a guy who grew up there. As far as I know, Mallorca is still one of most booming tourist meccas in the world. I didn't really want to pry and his English wasn't all that good, so I didn't ask him why he left that island for this one. If he's here, then, really, there must be many 20-somethings not just from Spain, but other EU-member countries that aren't faring well at the moment.
I'm surprised that there aren't more young people from Greece coming to London looking for work. Perhaps they are here, and, if they find themselves in SE London, may they be able to find the centre and get a little help.
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