A fictionalised account of my experiences supporting homeless people with mental health issues at a charity-run hostel in the Midlands. I learned a lot, about other people and myself. Much of it was good, sometimes it was distressing. And I had my preconceptions as a liberal do-gooder challenged, losing some innocence but perhaps seeing the world more clearly as a result.



Callum's mother had been pretty ill for a while. Very ill. But there's still that sense of surprise when someone slips away. And how can you really say that someone takes an event like that 'well' or not? Whoever you are, however old, it's like having the foundations wrenched from under you. And Callum's foundations were shaky to begin with, pretty much beginning and ending with his mum.

The guys rallied round him to offer support, but their idea of support was not always helpful. Someone or other got him into taking amphetamines, using the bogus premise that phet makes you confident, as if confidence was any kind of remedy for having your mother ripped from your life. Phet made Callum unpredictable, angry. I'd already had a run-in with him at a bus station one day, when I managed to save us both from a pummelling by drivers when he launched an attack on the side of a 68. I don't know if the number angered him or what, but he span into rage in a split second. Somehow I managed to calm him down, and bundle us both onto a bus that was starting to pull out of the bay, the driver unaware of the fracas that was going on. Never mind where it was going, we just needed to be away from the furious crews behind us.

After that, things quieted down. Callum seemed something like philosophical, explaining how he was going to build a 30 foot golden statue of his mum rolling a joint, which is how he remembered her most fondly. And he'd have probably done it at the rate Dez was paying him for cleaning his room.

The day it all kicked off, one of the cannier staff pointed out that the burn marks on Callum's finger were likely from a crack pipe. Some of the team, the more naive ones - allied, it has to be said, by them being churchgoers - refused to believe that Callum could do such a thing. I was willing to consider the idea: he'd already made the move from weed to phet, so why stop there?

We were one team member up that day, paying host to a guy who should have been working at another hostel but was on a disciplinary charge. So he was with us, a chunky and streetwise guy whose big passion in life was martial arts. If not for him, the shift might have ended very differently...

Callum's temper had been getting worse across the course of the day. He wasn't responding well to Ken, an ex army team member who was close to retirement - a lovely guy who did things by the book. They'd had a run-in and Callum was simmering from it some hours later.

Dinner was being prepared, and everything happened in a blur. Ken was outside, tidying up the exterior of the hostel while I was mashing potatoes. There was a roar like a wounded bear, and Callum was charging down the stairs and out the front door, launching himself with a snarl at Ken.

It's one thing being a former soldier, but Ken hadn't seen action for twenty years, and Callum was half his size again. More than that, he had a knife. Not the hunting knife we'd found and confiscated, but another blade of some sort. He raised it above his head, and caught Ken in the neck just as the martial artist responded to what was going on and, between us, we brought Callum to the floor and secured his limbs, potato masher still in my hand.

Ken was shocked more than hurt, but clearly things had reached the point where Callum couldn't stay in the hostel. He was a danger to himself as much as us. A police van took him away pretty swiftly, and within a month Callum had been transferred to a secure psychiatric unit, shaving his head and adopting his bad boy persona full time. He's still there as far as I know. Unlike the blood stain that was left after the attack on Ken. We washed that down, prepared for another day.


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