Walking down Winchester high street I see a presumably homeless guy in a door way, completely absorbed by drawing. There’s a beautiful black and white drawing with line and dot work next to him and he’s working on another one. He’s got a box of high quality coloured pens, fine liners and pencils plus a bag of sketchbooks. People walking past stop and look, give a little change or stop and engage him in conversation for a couple of minutes.
I approached him and asked him a couple of questions before sitting down and having a proper conversation with him which went as follows:
Q. Let’s start with your name?
A. My name is Allan, I’m 64 and my birthday is 9/11 – yeah I mean the American 9/11
Q. How long have you been homeless for?
A. I’ve been on the streets since the beginning of this year, January 12th 2017
Q. Why do you draw?
A. because I don’t like asking people for money
Q. What do you draw?
A. whatever comes out my head really. People seem to like eyes – they always go quick. Another popular one is a drawing of young girl’s face in profile with ‘fairy’ hair that I’ve done a few times. I can’t keep up with the public – seems soon as I finish one it disappears
Q. How long does each one take you?
A. That one (see image) took me 12 hours, this one is about 18 so far but I’m not finished. I never drew before I became homeless
Q. What’s the general reaction to you and your work from the public?
A. I’ve never had negative feedback from anyone. Most people seem to be amazed and give me encouragement and say they respect what I’m doing after they talk to me about my reasons and aspirations
Q. What are your aspirations?
A. I’m saving to buy a caravan, I’ve got £650 towards it at the moment. My landlord sold my flat when I was living in Gosport and I’ve been homeless since. I’m only here for the week, headed to London at the end of it
Q. Do you ever have problems with police? (he doesn’t have for sale signs or anything asking for donations, just that he’s saving for a caravan)
A. in the past police have actually been quite supportive as they’ve said I’m doing something “to help myself”. However, I’ve also been told my drawing constitutes as begging but the public stand by me and their reaction is always supportive and positive. I never ask anyone for money, they can buy a drawing, give a donation or just chat to me
It’s at this point a female police officer politely asks if she can chat to him and take his details. She tells me to ‘move on’ and asks her fellow police officer to watch Allan’s belongings. Another homeless individual that seemed to know Allan later told me they’d taken him away somewhere.
Winchester high street doesn’t require you to have a busking licence and I struggle to see how drawing is more offensive than the opera singer who busks occasionally (yes Winchester is the kind of place where the buskers sing opera). However, after looking at a ‘busking in London’ website I found some information stating “performers can accept donations but the public must never feel obliged to pay. You can give away CDs or other items, but you cannot charge a fee for them. To sell items for a fee you need a street trading licence.” Perhaps it was an issue with him being paid for his drawings and therefore collecting money, being on private property or perhaps the police had more reason to take him in.
I don’t know Allan’s history and I’m sure I don’t know even half of the real story but it was amazing to see some try to better themselves. Especially, heart-warming to watch him receive encouragements about his talent and personality from the public. My favourite answer from one of my questions is this last one.
Q. Does the drawing help you?
A. Oh yes. Without a doubt – it’s the best therapy I ever had