Gloucester homeless man: My life on the streets this Christmas
A CHEESE sandwich in a cold, damp tent is about as good as it gets this Christmas for homeless Richard Mills.
The shocking reality of the former landscape gardener's life on the streets of Gloucester will hit home to family's sitting down for Christmas dinner this year.
The 49-year-old lost his job 18 months ago, couldn't pay his rent and became homeless as a result.
Now he sells the Big Issue outside Sainsbury's, on Northgate Street, just to pay for basic supplies.
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When he's not working on the streets, he heads 'home' to his tent, pitched in muddy grounds at near the city centre.
"It's cold and damp in there. Apparently it's a tent for two people but you probably wouldn't want two people inside," he said.
And on Monday he returned to find his tent had been ransacked by youths.
He's since had to move it to another equally unpleasant site.
"Every day I get abuse from teenagers who say I'm a scrounger, a smackhead and that I should get a proper job.
"You just take it on the chin and carry on.
"As for Christmas Day, it is just another day for me," he told The Citizen as he was given a food handout by a passerby. "This cheese sandwich I've just been handed is probably going to be something like my Christmas dinner.
"Even on Christmas Day we are kicked out of the night shelter by 8am and then you fend for yourself."
He couldn't believe his luck last year when one of his Big Issue customers invited him out for a Christmas dinner. But he's not been so fortunate this time.
"I'd love to be in my own house again one day but at the moment I can't see a way out," he said.
But for now he's braving the colder weather, continuing to sell his copies of the Big Issue.
And even that is a challenge.
Richard walks 1.5 miles with just £3 in his pocket to buy his first two issues.
He walks the same distance back, sells them, before repeating the journey to buy more copies.
He's also picked up some odd jobs along the way.
"One customer has me drive her into town so she can do her shopping and I've been doing some DIY too," he said.
"You've just got to pick up what you can when the opportunities come along."
Gloucester City Council bosses say help is at hand for people who find themselves at risk of becoming homeless.
Mary Hopper, homelessness and housing advice service manager, said: "The city council offers a range of prevention measures to try and help people to avoid homelessness where possible.
"I would urge anyone in the city worried about becoming homeless to contact us as soon as possible for advice and assistance.
"This way we can try to work with them to keep them in their home."
For anyone who finds themselves without a roof over their heads over the Christmas period they can contact the City Council in office hours on 01452 396 396.
The council is closed between December 24 and 26 but an emergency service is available on 07958 485 530.