Anyone who lives in East London is nearly sure to have seen the person whose cat rides round on his shoulders – however few know his tragic story.
‘The cat man’ is a well-recognized face to locals in Hackney and Tower Hamlets and may usually be seen wandering across the streets close to Brick Lane.
Real title Sam, the cat man and his cat and canine, Buffy and Hooch, are sometimes compelled to sleep tough on nights after they cannot get a mattress in a hostel.
His two pets are the explanation Sam kicked a £100-a-day heroin and crack cocaine habit when the selection got here right down to spending cash on medicine, or paying for a hostel mattress so his beloved companions may have a roof over their heads at evening.
Life wasn’t all the time so arduous.
(Image: Anna Highfield)
More than seven years in the past Sam, who most well-liked to not give his final title, had a job and lived along with his girlfriend and their two boys, toddlers on the time – now he’s homeless and jobless and solely ever speaks to his sons on the cellphone.
The 38-year-old was born and raised in Southampton, the place he lived along with his mum, dad, and brother.
The boys had a traditional childhood till their mum was recognized with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), an incurable situation affecting the mind and spinal twine which may trigger extreme incapacity.
Sam mentioned his dad left when the boys had been nonetheless younger: “He had an affair, he couldn’t hack the truth that my mum was ailing – he has remarried now.
“Through illness and well being and all that, went proper out the window.”
Sam mentioned his mother and father’ cut up had a big impact on the household, however he went on to start out a household of his personal who he lived with briefly, in his girlfriend’s nan’s home, along with her and their boys.
‘I walked away from all of it to take care of my mum’
But his mum’s MS worsened, after which on prime of the sickness she was recognized with most cancers – Sam mentioned he gave up ‘my jobs, my children, the whole lot’ to take care of her.
“I simply walked away from all of it to take care of my mum, as a result of she was on her deathbed,” he mentioned.
Sam mentioned this was when the alcohol abuse began: “I began ingesting taking care of her, as a result of of my psychological well being watching my mum deteriorate.
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“I couldn’t hack the actual fact I couldn’t do something for her. I may prepare dinner and clear and that for her, however I couldn’t cease her ache.”
Sam turned emotional as he added: “To watch your mum in ache, crying, and sh***** the mattress and that – it mentally f**** you.
“And there’s not rather a lot I may do about it. So my approach of dealing with it was drink.”
(Image: Anna Highfield)
Sam mentioned it ‘wasn’t truthful on the children’ to attempt to get again collectively along with his girlfriend after his ingesting spiralled.
“I really feel like I let her down as a lot as I allow them to down,” he mentioned.
Just over seven years in the past, Sam’s mum died of MS and Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia.
He mentioned: “When she did die they wished the flat again, for another person.
“I didn’t observe by way of with my appointments with the council, I simply come as much as London – I simply wished to get away, too many recollections.”
Sam mentioned he moved to London from Southampton as a result of provision for homeless individuals is healthier up right here – however at first issues solely bought worse for him.
“Being on the road over right here, I bought on arduous medicine,” he mentioned.
Just over four-and-a-half years in the past after almost three years of battling his addictions, and with the assistance of a Brick Lane physician’s Methadone prescription in addition to his loyal pets, Sam managed to get clear and beat his £100-a-day heroin and crack cocaine habit.
“I’ve placed on rather a lot of weight, I was eight stone,” he mentioned.
‘Everyone calls me cat man’
(Image: Anna Highfield)
Sam reckons he could not have completed it with out his pets, which have earned him his native nickname: “Everyone calls me cat man”.
Indicating Buffy and Hooch, he mentioned: “These two [helped me] huge time – it was a case of cash for medicine, or cash for a hostel.
‘My mum had 11 cats and I stored probably the most streetwise one’
“I couldn’t allow them to go with out, it wasn’t truthful. It’s like a child isn’t it, like a child – somebody so harmless, why ought to they go with out, they didn’t ask to be on this place.
“I didn’t ask to be on this place however I’m an grownup and I ought to be taking care of them.”
The cat, Buffy, who can be eight on Christmas day, belonged to his mum.
“She’s from my mum’s household – my mum had 11 cats at one stage and I stored probably the most streetwise one,” mentioned Sam.
His canine Hooch – who got here from an unlawful breeding farm – was given to Sam by a good friend in London to assist along with his psychological well being.
His pets have motivated Sam to remain away from medicine – now he prioritises taking care of himself so he can take care of them.
“In London they’ve bought day centres, they’ve bought soup kitchens, you may get garments – there’s much more for homeless individuals than there may be in Southampton,” he mentioned.
But life is hard on the streets, and Sam struggles to see a approach out.
(Image: Anna Highfield)
“If you’re out on a chilly evening and also you get up and also you’re f****** freezing, it’s not good – these two do assist preserve me heat and protected, however if you get out your sleeping bag, since you don’t make sufficient cash for an evening shelter, it will get rattling chilly.”
‘How the hell do I get out of this stroll of life?’
Sam mentioned homeless centres in Hackney ‘are attempting’ to assist, however the whole lot has slowed down throughout Covid.
He mentioned: “How the hell do I get out of this stroll of life, as a result of I’ve bought no cash to get identification – I want a passport or one thing to open a checking account to say advantages – with out that clearly I can’t declare housing advantages and I can’t get nowhere to dwell.
“I’d like to know a approach round that.”
If you see Sam on the street, he’d love to speak to you.
He mentioned: “It helps rather a lot to speak to individuals, particularly if you’ve bought psychological well being points. I’ve bought the cat and the canine however if you discuss to them, they don’t discuss again.
“I wish to divulge heart’s contents to individuals – I’ve bought a brother who is in the identical predicament as me, however generally it’s finest to speak to somebody that you just don’t know.”
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