I met Frank when I started working at a homeless shelter in South Kensington just a couple of months ago. My friend Josie had been going for a few weeks and could not stop talking about how amazing it was helping out there, just serving tea and coffee and getting to know the guys who would turn up. Frank was one of her favourites and one day, she came home with this heart rendering story to tell:
'So I was talking to one of the guys at the shelter today and he told me something I just didn't know how to respond to. His wife died a few years ago, which was the cause of his depression, losing his job and finally, his homelessness. Since then, he has been sleeping on her grave. He misses her so much and talks about her all the time. One night, he was attacked by a group of guys he knew whilst sleeping in the graveyard. They beat him and injected him with drugs. He doesn't know why they did it to this day... What am I supposed to say to that?'
This story struck me so deeply, I just had to go along to the shelter; guys like Frank deserved to be cared for and loved. It completely shattered all my previous misconceptions about the homeless. He wasn't some imbecile who'd gambled or drank all his money away. Neither was he a gangster or into drugs or any of that nonsense. He was a regular guy who had to face an unfortunate tragedy in his life that rendered him entirely vulnerable to the cruelty of this world.
The next week, I woke up early on Friday morning to head to the tube station with Jose. Whilst at the shelter, I met so many inspiring people. From the lovely, to the little-bit-rough-around-the-edges, the drug addict to the stone cold sober. For some reason the thing that shocked me the most was that all these homeless guys and girls, well... they were just normal people. I don't really know what else I expected. I learned that those who drank away their lives weren't necessarily 'imbeciles' and getting into drugs wasn't 'nonsense'. The pain and heartache in that place is horrifying, but at the same time the love and compassion the guys have for one another is unbelievable.
This is where Frank comes in.
Frank's story is heart-breaking to say the least, but when I got to chatting to him, I learned about the man behind his agonising tale. He told me of how he used to be a personal shopper, which was ironic for a man who hated shopping, and he could even name drop a few celebrities that he'd been assigned to. He taught Josie and I and the other guys magic tricks and numbers puzzles, gave us life advice and encouraged us to stick at our uni courses. He reminded me of the stereotypical silly Uncle, who was always causing trouble at parties and is off winding up the kids rather than chatting with the adults. Upon being asked his life dream, he pondered and replied with smiling eyes, 'Well, I suppose that was to have a perfect wife, a faithful dog and a nice, little flat to live in. But I've had that dream now, so anything else is a bonus really.' One time he even told us the story of how he stopped taking medication for his depression and instead, decided to spend his time and money making other people smile. That, he said, was his medication.
One week, Frank came in and handed a few of us lucky ladies a chocolate bar each (ever the charmer, eh Frank?) An elderly couple had taken pity on him earlier in the week and handed him a bunch of chocolate bars and a giant bag of coppers. So Frank, with only £9 to his name, no home, no source of income, logically brings the chocolate to the shelter and gives it to us staff to say thank-you, whilst donating the money to the church because it would only 'weigh him down'. I don't know about you but it makes me feel guilty about having so much and sharing so little.
The next week, Josie comes home from the shelter (she sometimes does a different day to me) saying, 'Frank has the chance to get a job and a flat'.
It turns out that he has somehow managed to apply for his old job once again and knows a guy who can give him extra time on paying the deposit on a little place. However, the catch is that he has to get the job back to be able to pay for the flat. It's an all or nothing situation. Oh and the job people are only going to get back to him two days after he is supposed to have signed the contract for the flat. So to us, it's looking pretty bleak.
However Frank, pretty difficult to beat down, seems hopeful. 'If I turn up on Wednesday in a suit, you know I've got it', he beams.
Wednesday arrives. I don't think I've ever been more nervous in my entire life.
I can't work Wednesdays at the shelter because I have class on that day, so I'm relying on a text from Jose.
That message actually ends with 'now I've got to get my 27 suits dry cleaned!'
Ask anyone I saw that day and they will tell you I was grinning like a loon. I cried with happiness for the first time in years because a man who deserved everything, got that which so many of us take for granted.
I'd like to think this story speaks for itself. Frank is an Ordinary Incredible for so many reasons, but above all, because he never gave up. He never let life beat him. Two years on the streets, widowed, attacked, hungry and desperate and he came out on top. I'm so honoured to have shared just a few days of my life with this amazing man.