An elderly man has slept in the bus shelter for the last year, on the main seafront road opposite me. The traffic is so loud and the rain so cold, I do not know how he makes it through each day. I’ve taken time to chat with him as an equal – one human to another. I am always deeply touched by his poise, calmness and resilience. I give him the occasional hot meal and a little cash, but have become consumed with wondering how to help at a completely different level.
So I did the only thing I knew how to: I painted his picture, knowing that I would direct any money that came from selling it into trying to get him off the street. (‘Eight Miles Away’ refers to the lights of the new wind farm, eight miles out in the sea behind where he sleeps, which ironically generates warmth for 430,000 homes.)
48 hours after finishing the painting, a lady in Melbourne, Australia saw the image online and bought the original painting. (It reminded her of when her own son was 17, and unprompted bought an aborigine man a cold Coke in the incredible heat of the summer.) Since then, requests for prints have come in from all over the world – New York City, Spain, Canada, Norway, to name a few.
I cannot solve all homelessness, but maybe I can help one, good man. I am getting expert advice from a reputable homeless charities on what any funds could be used for. Despite major evidence that this hard life is really taking its toll, the man in the painting is often adamant he is fine. (To rebuild self-esteem, trust, and the ability to look forward again, will not be an overnight change.) However money will certainly be needed - He has one set of clothes that he wears in all weathers. He carries everything he owns wherever he walks.
Conversations with this homeless man are not easy. Through it all, there is always a sparkle in his eye and a smile whenever I talk to him. He is teaching me a lot about dignity. I am not an expert on homelessness. I am a painter. This is one small painting to help one mighty man.