Our vendors: Ken (Big Issue North, Bishopthorpe Road, York, UK)

By Christian Lisseman, Big Issue North

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m originally from Wales. I grew up in care. I’ve been homeless for 35 years. I’m 47 now. It’s the life I have had. I don’t know anything else. I’ve got two younger brothers who are both homeless as well.

How long have you sold the magazine for?

About twenty years, though I’ve had breaks in between. I used to be a scrap metal thief. I would steal all kinds of scrap metal. I’ve done it in Belgium, Germany, Spain, all over. I got into it when I was living in squats, back when you didn’t need ID to sell scrap. We used to squat in empty buildings and then rip out the metal and sell it. But I’m done with that now.

You were selling the magazine in Manchester before Christmas. Why did you move to York?

I’d been staying in York over Christmas and when I came back to Manchester my tent got trashed. Someone set fire to it and I ended up sleeping rough again. Not long after that, Bailey, my dog, saw a fox one night and ran off after it. I lost him and he ended up getting hit by a tram. I went into the Big Issue North office the next day and they helped me find him at the local dog rescue centre. He’s got damage to his leg and under his eye socket but he’s OK. I decided it was better for him and me to go and try staying in York instead.

Tell us about Bailey.

Bailey is seven years old. A mate of mine gave him to me because I’ve had dogs before and he knew that me having a dog would help keep me out of trouble. Bailey gets treated better than me. Someone came up to me and asked: “Is it all right if I give your dog this?” And it was sausage and mash. They didn’t ask if I wanted it! Not all my customers love Bailey though, because of his size.

You’ve travelled around a lot. What is homelessness like in other countries?

Other countries have much better ways of dealing with it, like in Italy. I went to see the welfare there and they arranged a 30-day stay in a commune and gave me a card, which got me a meal twice a day. The government should look at how other countries do it.

What are some of the other places you have stayed in?

I lived in motorhomes, static caravans, I have even lived in an old French police riot van. I was sleeping in a doorway in Manchester for a while, at the back of a bus station, before I got the tent. I did get a flat in Manchester at one point. But after four months, still no housing benefit was sorted, so I lost it. There was very little help I could get to keep it.

Where are you living now?

I’ve just moved into a room. It’s brilliant. I’m a happy man. I’ve paid some rent up front. I have to pay my own rent, I don’t get any housing benefit, so I need to make sure I sell enough magazines.

What are your plans for the future?

To stay out of trouble. I did get offered the chance to strip the metal out of an old police station near Manchester before I moved, but I turned it down. I don’t want to go back inside again. One day, I’d like to start doing scrap metal legitimately.

Do you like selling the magazine?

Well, it’s better than stealing scrap metal, isn’t it? It’s good working for yourself and being a registered tax payer. I always keep my receipts and do my tax return.