On the Streets
ON THE STREETS (2009)
Ever since making the Wet House I had wanted to go back to my original idea about filming people who were sleeping rough. I was fixated on the weather and how difficult it would be to sleep out in winter so I decided to film from June to the end of January. I was also convinced that homelessness is a housing problem. After all the word tells you doesn’t it? Home less. No home. Give someone a home and you solve their problem. I continued thinking for many months that if only people had a place to live everything would be all right.
After four or five months I tracked down Andy – when we first met him in June he was fresh faced and seemed quite functional. He was happy about being given a flat and disappeared off the scene. I think it was October when I suggested we go and find out how he was getting on. If you watch the film you will see that Andy was lonely and miserable sitting in a bedsit miles away from anybody he knew, self harming and drinking. That was the revelation. It finally dawned on me that Homelesness is not only a housing problem. In many cases it’s not a housing problem at all – home, four walls, represents violence, rape, danger. Young people don’t run away from home permanently to live on the streets over a silly argument. Home often represents violence, often sexual abuse and danger. It’s not a safe place. Almost every single person I spoke to on the streets, and there were many dozens I got to know, had grossly dysfunctional childhoods, mostly involving sexual abuse. Many of them had experienced being in so called ‘care’, a misnomer if ever there was one, where young people are not cared about or taught to take care of themselves.
Every few years Andy posts on Facebook that I betrayed him.
It was harrowing. And as a film maker you get no support – no supervision. It’s just you out there trying your best to be a good artist and a good human being.
Early on in the eight months I spent wandering around the streets of London, Jean – who kicks off the film – explained that she had voices in her head, the voices of the three men – her stepfather, his brother and his friend – who had repeatedly raped her when she was twelve. She told us that the voices ordered her to harm herself and hurt people who were kind to her. “So that would be us then?” I said nervously. Jean nodded. I had to take this in and think about it. I was convinced that Jean would never harm us, all her anger was directed at herself. I’ve known her for eight years now and never known her hurt anybody. Around that time she asked if I would be her next of kin. I understood that every time she was asked this question, by the hospital, the doctor, the police, she had to say nobody. So I agreed.
Three years ago I got a phone call at 5am from St Mary’s Hospital asking whether I was Jean Langford’s next of kin. Jean had set herself on fire in the Accident and Emergency and I had to give permission for certain medical procedures. I’ll never forget the shocking sight of Jean melted in intensive care…
She has been housed since the film but her life continues to be a rollercoaster, veering from suicidal despair and depression to brief periods of cheerfulness. Nine years after finishing the film we are still in touch. Yesterday she called me four times and I was called by police at 3am after Jean disappeared from hospital feeling suicidal. I was relieved when she picked up the phone this morning.
Every documentary takes a chunk of my heart.