Prison is better than living on cold streets say rough sleepers

Talbert Maphosa

Talbert Maphosa (Image: Teesside Live)

As temperatures plummeted across the country, some have felt the cold more than others. Having experienced homelessness first hand, Talbert Maphosa recently shared what it’s really like living on the streets in sub-zero conditions. 

Speaking to Teesside Live, he explained that those who live on the streets often have nothing more than the clothes on their backs or a damp sleeping bag.

However, on Princes Road in Middlesbrough, The Neighbourhood Welfare Hub aims to help out those who are homeless or living in hostels by providing them with food, clothing, and a sense of community. Susan Gill, who has run the café since 2007, said the homeless need the venue so they are fed – and that it’s much busier in winter because of the freezing temperatures.

Susan said: “At the moment it is below minus [temperatures] and they are being housed by Middlesbrough Council, which I am very grateful for. A lot of them go in the homeless hostels – but they don’t get fed in there, so they need the café.”

Teesside’s cold snap this week has had a huge impact on the homeless, with Susan describing how many often wear all their clothing rather than carry bags to keep warm in the freezing conditions. She said: “I couldn’t do one night [on the streets]. We are always busier in the winter.”

Jackie Fovargue, Jess, Nella Pillai, Aimee Baker, and Jackie Whitelock at the café

Jackie Fovargue, Jess, Nella Pillai, Aimee Baker, and Jackie Whitelock at the café (Image: Teesside Live)

Talbert Maphosa is one of the café’s regular visitors and is now living in a hostel after four months of being homeless earlier this year. The 32-year-old slept behind high street stores in his time on the streets and said: “Being on the street seems like nobody cares about you and nobody is there for you.

“It was the worst experience of my life. I’m getting passed about from one place to another. I could commit a crime and go to jail because the conditions there are better to live in.”

At the time, Talbert, who is from Middlesbrough, said he had no idea what the future held for him while he was on the streets. He added: “My head was spaced out – you don’t know where you are going. This day and age there are so many people on the streets – and the people they can put somewhere.”

Talbert, who was jailed for three years in 2017 after pleading guilty to domestic burglary with intent to steal, said he was first made homeless after being forced to leave a hostel.

He said: “It breaks my heart. When everyone has got nice houses and nice cars and then there is someone else sleeping on the street, most who don’t have any family members.”

Talbert Maphosa

Talbert Maphosa (Image: Teesside Live)

Talbert was sat with friend James William-Darling, who described Susan as having a “halo around her head” as he tucked into his breakfast made by some of the café’s volunteers. James was homeless for around two years in Newcastle a few years back, and said it was a “horrible” experience.

Now living in a hostel, the 59-year-old explained that when he was homeless he would go behind shops that had hot air fans just to keep warm when conditions were freezing around this time of year. He said: “The cold just wears you down – you walk to keep warm. You do more walking than anything. You just can’t keep warm, you toss and turn all night.”

Despite this, James, who is originally from Berwick-upon-Tweed, said he is a lot better off now in his hostel, adding: “I now live in a hostel in a room and I have a roof over my head. I come [to the homeless café] every day that it is open – Susan is one hell of a woman. She’s unbelievable.”

Talbert Maphosa and James William-Darling both regularly visit the café

Talbert Maphosa and James William-Darling both regularly visit the café (Image: Teessidelive)

Both praised some of the Middlesbrough takeaways who are happy to help out the homeless by giving them free leftover chicken kebabs and chips.

Another former homeless man called Jason, agreed with Talbert’s comment about jail. He said: “I couldn’t cope in this weather. I’d rather be in jail.”

The homeless café is connected to the homeless hub, which acts as a part charity shop to generate funds for the café and part area for the homeless to go and take free clothing. Susan also has a drawer filled with clean socks and underpants for homeless people only so they can have a fresh change of clothes once they’ve showered.

The shower is a large room and is fully accessible, for those that are unable to stand. Susan said that earlier on Thursday morning, one homeless gentleman spent ages in the shower singing away.

As Christmas draws near, collections are being taken for everything from toiletries to selection boxes and Christmas biscuit sets for the homeless – and Greggs has even donated £500 worth of £5 vouchers for when the café is closed over the festive period.

“My office does not usually look like that,” joked Susan, who was feeling grateful as she was surrounded by stacks and stacks of gift bags and selection boxes.

On one side of the venue is a wall dedicated to those who passed away in 2019, 2020, and 2021. Susan said by the end of this year she will have 13 more tributes to put up on the wall.

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