Ben’s Story: Life on Oxford’s Streets

I met Ben*, a local homeless man, during the second year of my degree at Oxford. Over time we began talking regularly and, increasingly, on a personal level. Feeling moved by Ben’s life’s story, I offered to use the platform I possess to draw attention to his fate and amplify his voice. The following is an unadulterated reproduction of a text he gave me last week, in which he recounts that story.

I lived with my parents up to about the age of 8. Life wasn’t much fun and pretty violent; I was constantly beaten by my parents, with fists, brooms and belts. I ran away from home regularly. At the age of 8 my parents gave me away, putting me into care of the local authorities.

This had a bad effect upon me, where my behaviour became even more troubled. Life in care of the local authorities was hard, brutal to a large degree. From a young age I started running away, going from care home to care home. My behaviour and attitude became more problematic and anti-authority. I constantly absconded, and started committing petty crime by the age of 14. I was placed into a secure unit, where I remained until I was 15 years old.

I was taken out of care at the age of 15. However, I ended up committing a spate of criminal offences after drinking a bottle of rum, for which I was sent to a borstal from then up until the age of 26. I spent a lot of my life in custody, and then I managed to turn my life around. I moved to Birmingham and lived a reasonably normal and happy life working as a metal press operator for many years.

My life started to go wrong when I started coming back to Oxford. I ended up losing everything, becoming homeless. I drifted from city to city. But I’ve always been at my happiest in Birmingham.

Being homeless and begging is humiliating and degrading. I met some really kind caring people, and have been astonished at the kindness I have come across, and how much people care. I’m determined to change my life around and get back on track again. I have so much to offer others, but most of all I owe it to myself and all those total strangers I met that showed me human kindness and gave me so much of their time and the strength to get through this.

However I will say I’m not entirely blameless in my situation and have made many mistakes, sometimes foolish mistakes. But hopefully this will help me become stronger and wiser.

*Ben’s name has been changed for the purpose of this article.