The harsh reality of sleeping rough in winter as ‘cold snaps your face’

From freezing hands to fading hopes – homeless people are facing a brutal winter on the streets all around the UK. Michael Davenport is one of those unfortunate people forced to sleep rough on the streets in Liverpool.

“Look at my hands, go on, feel them,” he said. They are blistered, with patches of black and blue spread around. “My hands are below freezing, I’ve got no feeling in them.”

Speaking to Liverpool Echo journalist Liam Thorp, Michael shared the harsh reality facing thousands across the UK this winter. 

Michael is just 33 years old. Sat with his wife, Lesley Lacky, both are huddled beneath an overhanging building outside Moorfields train station. The couple are covered in several blankets and sleeping bags. They hold each other for the entire time they speak – something Liam believes is done out of both love and necessity.

Michael has been sleeping on the streets of the city for two weeks now after he was asked to leave a hostel. He said he was kicked out after he and his wife were robbed and he retaliated. His return to rough sleeping could not have come at a worse time, with temperatures plummeting to as low as -4 degrees in recent days as a brutal winter draws in – and it’s going to get colder.

Speaking about the impact of the cold, Michael adds: “It’s coldest about 4 or 5am, when you wake up, the cold snaps at your chin, it literally snaps your face and wakes you up – that’s how cold it is, oh it’s horrible.”

Michael’s wife Lesley still has a place at the hostel, but she comes down to Moorfields to visit him each day. He says there is an eight-week wait for a bed for him anywhere and so he is resigned to spending that time – and Christmas – on the freezing streets. 

“The government has let us down,” says Michael with a tired grimace, “dogs on the street get picked up, given food and shelter but I don’t – am I less than a dog?”

In the centre of Church Street, one of central Liverpool’s busiest shopping areas, people are rushing around getting ready for Christmas. Hundreds brave the cold to dash in and out of shops or to restaurants for lunch. There is definitely a festive buzz about the place. 

In the centre of the busy pedestrianised street, 34-year-old Tomasz Janas is sat, propped up against a lamp post, clad in a hat, thick coat and gloves. Liam has covered homelessness as a subject for years and says he can usually tell the difference between someone who has been sleeping rough for a long period and someone for whom this terrifying experience is all new. He suspects Tomasz has not been sleeping rough for too long.

“Yes, it has only been four weeks and this is my first time”, he answers, his breath clearly visible in the cold mid-morning air. Originally from Poland, Tomasz has lived in England for seven years. Until recently he had a job as a forklift truck driver and was living in a flat in Bootle. “I lost my job and my landlord kicked me out,” he explains. He says he was in receipt of Universal Credit but said he believes he was treated unfairly by his landlord. “I couldn’t do anything about it, I couldn’t afford a lawyer to challenge it.”

At one point in the past month Tomasz was sleeping in a bush. For now he is bedding down in the doorway of the Decathlon store in Church Street, he said he has noticed it getting much colder in recent days.

It’s clear Tomasz is determined to get back on his feet, he hopes his time on the streets will be brief. He adds: “It’s cold, it’s not nice but I have to keep trying to do my best. I am hoping to get back to a normal life.”

Only a few hundred yards up from where Tomasz is sitting and there is another young man sat watching shoppers walk by. Danny Doyle is two years younger than Tomasz but has spent a fair bit more time on the streets.

A trained landscape gardener, he became homeless after the breakdown of a family relationship around 15 months ago. He’s already done a year sleeping rough but is not relishing the ensuing winter.

“It’s absolutely freezing,” says Danny, nodding in thanks as a passer-by drops a few coins into his empty McDonald’s coffee cup.

“The early hours of the morning are the worst, the cold hits you so hard it wakes you up and then you can’t sleep,” he explains. He’s got a tent stored elsewhere in the city centre that he is currently staying in while waiting hopefully for a property to move into. 

“I’m still young,” Danny says with a fading smile, “I just need a house.”

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