A few weeks ago I was at Piccadilly Circus, on my way to the Wolseley and, sitting near a cash point was a young homeless man, perhaps twenty-seven, a few years younger than me. He was handsome, with short black hair and stubble. Huddled up in a blanket he looked so forlorn, damp and cold. I handed him a ten pound note and, as I did so, our eyes met and he smiled at me. He had a cheeky smile, cute brown eyes and was called Paul. To be cold and hungry is horrific. I think it's very easy to de-humanise the homeless, to treat them as different from us and yet each one is a unique and beautiful individual, experiencing all of the emotions we do.
Fighting homelessness is at the heart of my human rights message. With this in mind I've kick-started my New Year by involving myself in a number of projects challenging homelessness in our society. HIV stigma and homophobia are issues which I've previously discussed in my Huffington Post blogs and often both are faced by the young LGBT people helped by one of my favourite charities, the amazing Albert Kennedy Trust. They have three Purple Door houses, accommodation which they provide for homeless young LGBT adults across the UK, one in each of London, Manchester and Newcastle. Their goal is to help LGBT young adults who have either been living on the streets or are on the brink of being made homeless. Their stories are often heartbreaking, of gifted, beautiful and hopeful young people whose dreams have been destroyed by rejection from their families. Often this is as a consequence of their sexual orientation, or sometimes with associated HIV diagnoses. As a successful, healthy and happy HIV positive man, co-infected with Hep C, who for a period struggled to deal with an HIV diagnosis, to see young people facing this challenge without their family and friends, whose support was so crucial to me, saddens me deeply. I was very privileged in December to provide gifts and cards to all the residents of the AKT's Purple Door houses. I wanted to make their Christmas as special as possible. I got to write Christmas cards and met everyone at the AKT's offices in Hoxton.
In February the AKT and I are hosting a press conference at the Groucho Club to discuss LGBT youth homelessness. The AKT will describe the incredible work they are doing and I will tell the story of my own experiences dealing with HIV and Hep C, to be elaborated further in my forthcoming autobiography "Positive Damage". 10 % of the profits from "Positive Damage" will be going to charity, including 1 % to the AKT. Winter is a time of hardship, hunger and fear for the homeless, LGBT or straight, young and old. I live in one of the richest cities in the world, but all over central London there are men and women whose dreams do not extend beyond finding somewhere warm and safe to sleep.
I've recently been helping out for a couple of hours on Monday evenings at St John's in Waterloo, who are hosting the amazing ROBES Project. ROBES was started eight years ago, St John's becoming involved from last year. 23 churches on the South Bank are working to shelter the homeless, the homeless sleeping on camp beds between the pews. At St John's guests were treated to a banquet, complete with beautiful table decorations provided by the congregation and the choir sang. I loved the respectful and dignified way in which the homeless are treated, each having their own sleeping bag and all treated with kindness. Volunteers stayed overnight with the homeless, making sure they are ok and that everyone is safe. I'm excited about getting more involved and, as the project progresses, getting to know the homeless people and learning about their aspirations.
I would like to see homelessness completely eradicated in the UK and one of my goals for 2015 is to step up my commitment to helping the poor and the homeless, hopefully raising the profile of the great work done by the AKT and St John's and meeting some wonderful people in the process.