Beneath the cardboard boxes

An insight into the often dismissed personalities of some of the people we walk past sleeping on the streets.

The project...

If you have a family, a home and a job, it can be hard to relate to homeless people. 

I'll admit I was the same, until I spent time listening to some of them and hearing their stories. Most of them are just like you and me, but have been dealt one tough hand after another and never had the love and support we all need to work through them. They've been left with very little choice. It takes someone with a lot of patience, persistence and love to give them the support and encouragement they need to break free of a vicious cycle and start to rebuild their life. 

Carole Fox is one such lady. Her and her team at  SIFA Fireside provide an incredibly friendly, warm space for homeless people to feel at home. They offer basic food, a friendly ear, medical advice and a safe haven for many rough sleepers in Birmingham. 

They're a mixed bunch, and some are easier to warm to than others, but break down initial barriers and most of them love to chat and appreciate your time. It took a while for them to come round to having their photos taken, partly as many said they'd never had a nice photo taken before. But it's amazing what a difference a smile makes - catch them at the right moment and it's easy to reveal more than the tough exterior they often show. There's a real innocence to some of them, and an almost childlike sense of humour, perhaps combined with an acceptance of there they are in the world. With others it's hard to see past the sadness in their eyes. The loss of fight from years of trying.  SIFA Fireside offer that all important hand to hold when they're ready to start fighting again. 

The charity deservedly won a 2013 GSK IMPACT Award and as part of this I spent a day with this incredible team of people and some of the homeless people who walk through their doors. It was a hard hitting day, but it opened my eyes to the real people beneath the sleeping bags and cardboard boxes we walk past every day.

These photos were exhibited at the Science Museum in May 2013.