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Last Updated: Monday, 19 June 2006, 05:39 GMT 06:39 UK
'My mother failed to recognise me'
By Catherine Lyst
BBC Scotland news website

As the Streetwork charity announces plans to create a coffee shop run by homeless people, one man tells BBC Scotland's news website of his time on the streets and how the charity helped him.

One of the worst moments of Ian McFadyen's life was when his mother walked by without recognising him.

Ian McFadyen
Ian McFadyen begged to feed his alcohol and heroin addictions

He was a heroin addict and an alcoholic and was living on the streets, funding his addictions by begging.

Just a few years earlier he had been living the high life, working as a leisure manager in a five-star hotel in Dubai, with his own villa and a new Range Rover.

Born in Inverness and educated at a public school in England, he spent most of his time in Edinburgh, where he worked as a butler at some of the city's top hotels, looking after major celebrities.

Having secured the job in Dubai at the age of 22, he remained there for several years before moving to the world's first seven-star hotel.

Looking for a change, he then moved to Maui in the Hawaiian Islands where he ran a parasailing and scuba-diving business.

Begging is the lowest thing you can do. You want people to give you money but you also don't want to be seen

He also started getting involved in the party scene.

As a result, he quickly became hooked on alcohol and cocaine which led him to crack cocaine.

"I would get quite good tips and everything I had would go on cocaine and crack," he said.

"But I never dabbled in heroin. I saw it as a dirty, untouchable drug."

Ian returned to Scotland when his father died. He took the death hard and sought solace in alcohol, drinking day and night.

He lost his girlfriend, built up huge credit card bills and was being chased for money by a mortgage company.

"I was 29," he said. "My mother took me in for a few months but couldn't put up with me and ended up packing my bags."

Beaten up

After being kicked out of a bed and breakfast for failing to pay, he took his bag of clothes to the luggage storage at Waverley station.

"That was the last I saw of it," he said. "I couldn't afford to get it back out. By that stage I had given up.

"All I had was a pair of jeans, a fleece, a baseball cap and a pair of Russell & Bromley loafers.

"I was desperate for a drink so I walked up to a man in a sleeping bag and asked him how to beg.

"He just laughed at me.

"It was the hardest thing I had ever done in my life. I felt embarrassed, humiliated and disgusted with myself.

Person sleeping on the street
Ian lived on the streets of Edinburgh for almost two years

"Begging is the lowest thing you can do. You want people to give you money but you also don't want to be seen.

"You just want to disappear. I'd worked hard all my life and never asked anyone for anything. I'd always had integrity and morals."

Ian soon discovered that beggars have their own "pitches" and a pecking order is in place.

He was threatened, mugged and beaten up by other homeless people a number of times but also had a narrow escape when youths set fire to two mattresses he was sleeping between. His foot was badly burned.

However, another homeless man took him under his wing and taught him how to become streetwise.

In his two years on the streets, Ian became addicted to heroin and admits to making up stories he is "really ashamed of" to persuade people to give him money.

One Hogmanay an American girl gave him 250 to put a deposit on a flat but an hour later she found him still begging.

"I was just annoyed as she was in the way and stopping me from begging," he said. "After she'd given me all that money. At the time I just thought it was survival."

I was 6ft 3ins and weighed just eight stone

Ian became friendly with one of Streetwork's outreach workers, a man called Stan, who gave him a sleeping bag, took him for coffees and helped him apply for benefits.

"Just going for a coffee with Stan made me feel like I was part of society again," he said.

"As a homeless person, people treat you like a piece of dirt at their feet."

Stan put Ian back in touch with his mother.

"She'd heard that I'd died," he said. "I remember the day she'd passed me in the street. She didn't know me. I was totally unrecognisable.

"I was terrified she would recognise me.

"She would have taken me back in but that wouldn't have done me any good. I needed to hit my own rock bottom."

A homeless worker eventually persuaded Ian to stay at a new hostel in the city where he was allowed to take his dog and drink alcohol. But drugs were banned.

Crack cocaine
Ian initially became addicted to crack before moving onto heroin

"I had never looked in a mirror for 18 months," he said. "I had been totally transformed and gave myself a real fright. I had a lot of facial hair and I was 6ft 3in and weighed just eight stone."

Ian stayed at the hostel and only begged for one more week. He then managed to give up heroin and cut down on his alcohol consumption.

In his final week of begging, Ian's mother saw him and burst into tears before running into a shop and buying him a hat, scarf and gloves.

"As soon as she left I went back into the shop and tried to get a refund," he said. "Apart from getting the money, I would get more sympathy if people thought I was cold."

Now 39, Ian got married almost a year ago and has a 15-year-old stepson. After a spell working back in hotels he is now a support worker at a homeless hostel.

"I've never been so happy in my life," he said.

Self respect

He is full of praise for Streetwork.

"They had a huge impact on my life," he said. "They were completely non-judgemental and gave me back dignity and respect.

"Along with another agency they gave me the opportunity to get my life back on track. They have been phenomenal."

He welcomed the charity's coffee shop plan.

"Anything that can get people off the streets and give them self respect is fantastic," he said.

Despite being a former beggar, Ian said he would never give money to anyone begging.

"If people had stopped giving me money my addictions wouldn't have gone on so long."




SEE ALSO
Homeless set to run coffee shop
19 Jun 06 |  Edinburgh and East

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