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Mszanik, homeless in Scotland (II)

The growing problem of homelessness is crossing the English border but, in Scotland, there has been a drop of 20% in the number of applications from homeless people.

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María Marzo


This piece of good news was announced officially three months ago by the Scottish government, which drew a comparison with the same month in the previous year.

The director of Shelter in Scotland, Graeme Brown, was very satisfied with this statistic, but he also offered other statistics with the intention of continuing the fight and investment in programs that aim to end homelessness.

“Nearly 50,000 people still registered themselves as homeless in the last 12 months so this progress needs to be a catalyst for even greater change,” declared Brown.

The decrease in the number of applications is causing the homeless of England to relocate to Scotland. The aim is to find work and a home but, to achieve this, aid is needed. This is the situation of Nikolai Mszanik, a 33 year old Polish man who has travelled to Glasgow with a backpack of clothes, a sleeping bag, and a lot of hope.

His life in the British capital began little more than a year ago. Soon after arriving, he began working in the kitchen of a restaurant. However, last February he lost his job.

The impossibility of finding a new position exhausted his savings and consequently he was unable to pay his rent and bills.

“Finally, I found myself in the street with £2.23. And, what did I do? Sleep under a bridge,” he says, at the same time recalling the feeling of helplessness that overwhelmed him during his first night of homelessness. “I didn’t know what to do or where to go, so I spent every day walking from one place to another with no aim other than to keep moving so I would stay warm”.

Mszanik wandered around London for 10 days, two of which he slept in a hostel. He then decided to move to Glasgow. At 10.10pm on a Tuesday, there was Mszanik, sitting in front of the door to the bus station of the Scottish city. “They told me that it might be easier to find work here, so I caught a bus with the money I gathered from begging in the street and I came here”.

Only five hours and five minutes had passed since his arrival, during which his situation remained the same as in London, without work, without money and without a home.

However, he displayed confidence in what Glasgow had to offer.

“They told me that I should go to an office of the City Council to explain my situation and see if they can offer me a place in which I can sleep until I have found work,” he explained, at the same time rummaging through the small rucksack he had at his side. “Look, these are copies of my CV. I’ve already started to leave them in the restaurants around here and I’ll carry on tomorrow,” he says with hope and confidence.

Mszanik is sure that in Glasgow, as in London, he will find services for the homeless, but he hopes that the situation will be easier in the Scottish city.

“At times, you see yourself in a cycle without an exit. You ask for help, they demand a mountain of documentation which you might not have, you have to wait for them to examine your application, they tell you there are others with priority over you, and there you continue; a night sleeping in a shelter, another in a different shelter, another in the street, and so on night after night, moving from one side of the city to the other with the little you have and the hope that your situation will change slowly dwindling,” he added.

The job hunt is worrying for Mszanik, not because he doesn’t believe in his ability to be a good worker, but because of his appearance.

“Look at me. I’m dirty, I don’t have clean clothes, and although I don’t want to, I look like what I am, a homeless person.

It’s a little difficult to find someone who will employ me, no? That’s why I’d like to have a place that I can rely on to clean myself up and to leave the small amount of belongings that I have,” he says, gesturing towards the backpack.

The situation in Glasgow is not very hopeful either. The economic cuts have reached the aid programs for the most disadvantaged, which has resulted in many people losing their homes overnight.

In spite of this, one must remember that this year, 2012, Scotland will reform a law that regulates how the homeless are treated. It is a reform that will give couples and singletons without children the right to a home, not only those that are considered ‘prioritized’, as occurs in the current system.

(Translated by Oliver Harris)

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