Urinated on and set on fire - plight of homeless in Exmouth

PUBLISHED: 06:30 10 April 2017

pictured from left to right: Dean Gillham, Jaz Johnson, Marcus and Lee

pictured from left to right: Dean Gillham, Jaz Johnson, Marcus and Lee


Their reasons for sleeping rough are all different, but their plea is the same – ‘please help me’.

A group of homeless men and women, taking nightly refuge in the doorways of Exmouth, have issued a desperate appeal for a safe place to live.

Jaz Johnson, 50, Marcus, 46, Dean Gillham, 35, and 38-year-old Lee, are asking for a chance - they want to work and pay their way, with a roof over their head.

By day, they watch the world go by at the London Inn car park. By night, they shelter in doorways, sleeping in pairs for safety; while asleep, some have been urinated on by passers-by. Lee has woken to find the hat on his head on fire.

They rely on the generosity of strangers and handouts of food and cash - all hope the authorities will help with accommodation and benefits.

Dean, who has been living on Exmouth’s streets for six weeks and has a criminal record, hopes shoplifting will land him in prison for the safety and security of a warm bed and regular food. He wants to work in construction and feels ‘invisible’ being homeless.

“There’s nothing positive about my life at all,” he said. “I am so depressed; I can’t see anything positive at all. I get suicidal thoughts, living on the streets.

“I know everyone in this town. They see me begging. It makes me feel worthless.

“Because of my reputation, no-one will give me the time of day. The only thing I look forward to is going to sleep for half an hour.

“Because I have to sleep on the streets, that’s how I think I will get treated in the workplace - that I will be isolated and treated differently.”

Marcus, a former Exmouth Community College student, has been sofa surfing at friends’ homes for years; he has been homeless since January. He hopes to learn to drive to get work.

“People think it’s OK to pee on you; I have woken up with a bloke peeing on me,” he said.

“Most people just walk past; you are invisible to them. There are a few nice people that say ‘hello’ and a few people that will give you grief, but to the majority of people you are invisible, or they look down on you.”

“Drinking alcohol gets you to sleep at night when it’s freezing cold. “When you are on a concrete floor, it’s not comfortable. It helps to knock you out.”

Dad-of-three Lee, who had two houses and mortgages, is struggling with his mental health while surviving on the streets and relies on his methadone prescription. He drinks to help him sleep. He is keen to continue an engineering apprenticeship and is ‘embarrassed’ by homelessness.

Lee, 38, said: “I have never been unemployed, so I don’t know how to play the system - I don’t know how it all works. I had my own business and my own house.

“I would jump at the chance to work.”

Former social worker, grandmother-of-three Jaz, 50, said: “People think I am a smackhead and a crackhead because I have lost my teeth. I want to be off the streets so I can be safe.”

East Devon District Council said it could not divulge if it had offered any help to the group. A spokeswoman said: “Where people sleeping rough are concerned, we are unable to discuss individual cases, although we do work closely with the Assertive Homeless Outreach Team from Julian House, as well as the police, RISE, and the Open Door Centre to assist any verified rough sleepers in Exmouth with the aim of linking them with homeless agencies in the area.”

If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Exmouth Journal. Click the link in the orange box above for details.

Become a supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Comments have been disabled on this article.

Latest from the Exmouth Journal