A story from the streets of Cambridge

Gabriella Braddell-Dawson 19 February 2014

"The rain gets you down. Speaking as someone who grew up in a rainy place, I can vouch for that. I grew up in Cumbria. I never thought about it as beautiful; what was beautiful to some people was just normal to me.” I ask what brought him to Cambridge. “It is a long story really – family breakdown… But I am on the way up.” 

And so Mike tells me about his life. “I had to leave Cumbria. I grew up on a small dairy farm and you’re stuck in one place. You are tied to one place, and I wanted to see a bit of the world.” He joined the army, he tells me. His regiment moved around the UK and it was in Scotland that he met his ex-wife. “She is Canadian but from Nicaragua originally. She was a divorcee. I think I really loved her. We married and moved to Canada and we had two children together, a boy and a girl.” 

But things did not go well between them. “I think my ex-wife pulled a fast one, and she pleaded poverty although I was working. We divorced. Meanwhile, I still had to pay my fees to get my immigration process done.” 

But then he got into a “bit of a pickle”. He got into a confrontation where he punched someone, and had an assault charge filed against him. He wasn’t covered by the landed immigration status, which gave the authorities the right to deport him. 

“I was destitute when I came back, and was unable to get a job. I was rejected time and time again. And I had a bit of a breakdown. For four years I was in a bad place. I spent some time in Cumbria where I was rough sleeping. I am not close to my family and I couldn’t ask them for help because I was embarrassed by the state I was in.” 

He came to Cambridge partly because of the weather. "Often, you will find that people who are rough sleeping or are ex-rough sleepers anywhere in the South East or East Anglia come from Wales or North West England. Rainy places. It is no good rough sleeping where it is wet.” 

A few years ago he started selling The Big Issue. "I am in a room now with Cambridge Cyrenians. They help a lot of people, a lot of people who end up sort of marginalised.” Founded in 1970, Cambridge Cyrenians provide a range of accommodation, support and specialist services for homeless people in Cambridge. “

My neighbour Kevin is Irish but has an East Anglia accent because he has been here so long. There are a few Indians – India is quite well represented, but I have no problem with anyone there.” He winks. “I have to be careful that people don’t think I am bigoted because I am a white working class male and when I cut my hair I look like a skinhead!” He grins.

I ask him about his children. The girl is now 13 and the boy is 16, but he hasn’t seen them in 10 years. “My ex-wife severed contact. I have tried looking them up on Facebook, but nothing.” He shakes his head. “She always said I was a good father.” It is clear that his children’s estrangement has broken his heart. “But I am not going to let my hostility towards her harm me. I am going to fix myself in such a way that my children will be proud of me.” 

He tells me about his plans for the future. “I have thought up so many ways of how in the future… If I get something behind me, I want to buy some land. I want to go in with a small group of people and buy a large chunk of land. It would be cheaper that way. I have got all sorts of different plans.” 

Plans and dreams. And he has done some research. He takes me through the prices of land and building restrictions. “In Newcastle upon Tyne, the prices are nothing like they are here. We will have to see how things pan out. But I am positive about the future.” 

What he wants most is to see his children again. “When I save up enough money, I will buy a ticket to Canada and make contact.” The conversation turns to Valentine’s Day. I ask if there is anyone special in his life he would hope to spend the day with. He pats his chest. “My children. They are all I have got.”