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A pianist, an artist, a dog called George and a new homeless app

 
October 13th 2015
 

John Dolan's mural of Victor

He is a classically-trained pianist who ended up living on the street. But now he has become an unlikely ‘face’ of World Homeless Day.

John Dolan, a street artist who was until recently homeless, teamed up with StreetLink to celebrate the international awareness day with a mural of Viktor, a trained pianist  who came to England looking for work and ended up homeless and addicted to drugs.

Dolan and his dog George also feature in the picture.

The mural of Viktor, created on Thursday, 8 October in Bethnal Green Rd, aimed to promote a new phone app that helps people contact StreetLink when they see someone sleeping rough. Members of the public, or even homeless people themselves, can text StreetLink, which then passes on the information to the nearest outreach teams, allowing them to follow-up the sighting.

But on Thursday the public were invited to add to John’s picture with their fingerprints, underlining the point that help for homeless people is “at people’s fingertips”.

Dolan, who was homeless for over 20 years before being discovered by gallery owner Richard Howard Griffin, said: “I used fingerprints to fill in the shadows, details and features of the portrait as they are the most iconic markers of individual identity... and because that’s how people will use the app.”

Few other street artists can claim such an affinity with the pavement.

John – a warm, charming and open man – was shaped by a tough past and a complicated family dynamic. As a child, his supposed parents Dot and Gerry “spoilt me rotten”; it turned out they were his grandparents. His ‘sister’ Marilyn was actually his mother, his brothers were his uncles and he barely knew his dad.

He said: “Up until that point my life was idyllic. It fucking turned my world upside down. I was too young for that sort of revelation. My trust for people went out the window.”

He declined into a spiral of delinquency, depression, and drug addiction. At first heroin helped but self-medicating backfired spectacularly as the consequences of his drug use destroyed both his quality of life and and his self-respect. Family relationships deteriorated rapidly and addiction locked him into a cycle of crime and incarceration that landed him on the street.

One morning after a heavy night’s drinking in a hostel, he awoke to see a strange dog looking at him. He’d swapped a can of Special Brew for a Staffordshire bull terrier. George, as he called the dog, would come to define the rest of his life.

Dolan used to find robbery easier on his pride than begging, so he dealt with his embarrassment by training George to sit 10 feet away with the cup in front of him. The humorous image connected with passers by who got to know John and George as a team.

Another way John coped with his awkwardness was to bury his head in his sketchpad and draw. He sat and drew the same buildings every day for practice and started selling them, but it was his sketches of George that attracted the most attention.

He was “discovered” and after several lucrative exhibitions and a successful book, entitled, John and George: The Dog Who Changed My Life, he has managed to establish himself as a successful professional artist with a future.

But the transition hasn’t always been easy.

It isn’t just the physical scars and broken teeth that have followed him from the street: he is still battling depression and until recently has found the money and attention difficult to handle. After several relapses he is currently clean and resolute about his recovery for the first time in his life, something he credited to his regular attendance at Narcotics Anonymous meetings. ‘

Like many in recovery he is motivated by appreciation and shame to give something back now he can.

Viktor, the friend of John’s depicted in the mural, hasn’t been so fortunate.

He came to England looking for work but ended up on drugs and living on the street. According to John: “You couldn’t get more destitute than this guy, poor old Viktor probably hasn’t seen a bath in ten years, he’s crawling with lice and dirtier than you can imagine.”

The StreetLink service, run by Homeless Link and St Mungo’s Broadway, is not universally popular. Some homeless people dislike the way it asks the public to “report” them. Others use it to request help but claim it is ineffective; outreach workers don’t always respond.

But Matt Harrison, director of Street Link, claims it is needed more than ever. In London there has been a 50 per cent increase in the number of people sleeping rough in any one night in the last five years, with 7, 781 people being recorded as sleeping rough in the capital.

He said: “The aim of the day was to raise awareness of StreetLink amongst people who regularly walk past people sleeping rough in busy urban areas and are perhaps unsure about the best way to help.

“John’s story demonstrates that we shouldn’t define people by their current situation. People have talents and abilities that can help them rebuild their lives away from homelessness if given a chance to develop.

“We need to give all rough sleepers the opportunity to maximise their talents by getting them off the streets as fast as possible”.

Contact StreetLink by calling 0300 500 0914, visit www.streetlink.org.uk, or download the mobile app for Apple and Android devices.

 
 
 

 

Contents

New arrivals hit the streets

Soup Run Forum

Web only: Emergency Islington shelter remains open during sub-zero temperatures

Chairman of the board

Rest in peace - in memory of lost friends

Prince poses

Starter pack boost

Wearing a jacket to beg?

Teens found guilty of killing Ralph Millward

The Passage withdraws service "as a last resort"

New learning centre for Glasgow

iHobo game causes controversy

Auckland extends ban on rough sleepers

Homeless interrogation

Affordable housing development opens in Edinburgh

Who decides?

Credit unions

New counts are optional

Nobby on stage

I will never forget you, my people

London homeless services in limbo over ?Ǭ£3.28m cuts

Disused night shelter re-opened for winter months

Coventry Cyrenians forced to cut services

London hub success for new rough sleepers

Crisis Skylight in Birmingham - a year on

Residents look ahead to staff upheaval

Midland Heart report

Labour call for hefty council tax levy on empty homes

Stik pic for the American Church

Lottery grant means new opportunities

Mungo?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s launches women?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s campaign

Homeless people forced into slavery

Homeless couple marry in Australia

Number of homeless in Southend underestimated

Basic banking for all

NSNO expands into west London

Scottish homeless applications drop by 19 per cent

Miami cannibal

Invisible People film UK homeless

The demilitarised zone in North America’s drug war

2012 - the year of the right to permanent accommodation in Scotland?

Crisis at Christmas

The Pavement is recruiting

Rough sleeper donates $250 to charity

Food voucher scheme scrapped

Commemorating friends and companions

Human rights for all

First person: Gemskii on regaining control of her life

The shades come off

Upfront: spikes

Comment: Spikes are the least of your worries

Opinion: All up in smoke?

Heartbreak Hotel, episode 4.

The Pied Piper of Housing

March for the Homeless

Being homeless doesn't mean you can't vote on May 7

The vulnerability ruling

The Queen’s speech

Criminalising homelessness

116-bed hostel for young homeless to close in Southwark

Sponsor a bed and rebuild a life

Hipsters neutralise anti-homeless spikes

What the Brexit will happen now?

Anti-homelessness protesters threatened with eviction, jail by Manchester city council

Showing our impact

Rebirth

The birth of the North Gower Action Group

A pianist, an artist, a dog called George and a new homeless app

Living water

Midwinter blues?

Councils back change in law to tackle rising homelessness

Having problems with your JSA?

Mayoral hustings on homelessness

Skippering

A major step in reducing homelessness?

Liverpool Police homeless curb beggars belief

Charity begins at home?

Legal aid charade

Surviving the streets – by those who've done it

Stop the scandal

Glasgow homeless services at risk

Bill gives councils legal duty to stop homelessness

Homeless Grenfell survivors afraid of deportation

 

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