Support Village Voice News With a Donation of Your Choice.
By Mark DaCosta- Latchman is a thirty-one-year-old Guyanese man who says that he has lived on the streets for his entire adult life. Latchman, who says that he is an alcoholic, recently met with Village Voice News (VVN) during the morning hours on the pavement near the Bourda market. He agreed to tell VVN about his life.
Latchman, dressed in a clean green jersey and black jeans, appeared to be calm, comfortable, articulate, and intelligent. He said that he left his parents’ home, and his high school in Berbice when he was fifteen years old. He had started to drink alcohol excessively about a year before moving out. He said that he could not live with the strict rules of his devout Hindu parents. Latchman said, “I am smart; I knew that I am an alcoholic almost from the first time I started to drink. I knew that rum would be a problem for me.”
He said that life on the streets was difficult at first, but, he said, “on the streets I get to live by my own rules; I like to live how I want to live.” He said, “[Living on the street] I had to learn how to beg for money and how to do yard work for people who would sometimes give me food.” He told VVN that during that time he discovered that he likes to work with plants, and would jump at any gardening jobs he could find.
Latchman related that over the years, he lived at countless different places, “I can’t even remember some of the yards and garages that I slept at. Sometimes people would allow me to stay at a bottom house in exchange for me doing all kinds of work for them.” However, he said, it always ended with him being put out onto the streets again after he drank too much and “behaved bad.” He said, “when I am drunk, I sometimes say things that I don’t want to say, hurtful things, and people don’t want me around any more. So, now I try not to get drunk in the daytime; I drink all the time, but I wait until night to get drunk and go to sleep.”
Latchman now lives in Georgetown. He sleeps with about four other homeless men on the pavement near a particular store on Regent Street. He said, “The owner of the store lets us stay there because we provide security for the store in the night; [the owner] doesn’t have to pay a security guard.” Latchman explained that it is better for him to be in a group of other homeless men. He said, “In a group, we know one another and look out for one another. When I used to sleep alone on the seawall or in the cemetery, almost every morning I would wake up barefoot because somebody would steal my shoes while I sleep. Also, there is always the problem of somebody wanting to [sexually assault] you when you are sleeping alone in the open.” When asked if sexual attacks are common Latchman said, “every night homeless people are raped or forced to have sex because they want money for drugs or food. “It happens all the time,” he said.
Latchman said that for the last two years or so his life has been stable. He explained: “I do odd jobs around Bourda market; I clean and set up people’s stalls in the mornings, and help packing up the stocks in the afternoons. That is how I get money to buy rum. I get good food from a lady with a food stall, in exchange, I clean her stall and buy whatever she might need during the day. I stay at her stall or check on her every few hours; sometimes she needs things for her stall: plastic cups or bags or packs of spoons or forks, or she might need me to go and change money for her, she trusts me.”
He said, “I usually bathe at the sink inside the [washroom at the] market, or ask to use the hose when someone is washing the pavement in front of stores in the morning hours, I always manage to find a place to bathe and wash my clothes. “I ask nicely [to use a standpipe or a hose], and some people say yes, also most people around here know me by now. You see, I have to stay clean because I spend a lot of time at the lady’s food stall, and customers don’t want to be around no stink man.”
The man said that whenever the streets flood due to rain, the lady does not open her food stall, but, he said that he always gets food; “people with food stalls share out their leftover food in the afternoons.” He said that he can always count on one source. “The Muslim people come here every afternoon at six o’clock on the dot and share out a box of food and a drink.” He said that on days when the lady’s stall is closed, he would spend the day begging and working for money which he would use to buy alcohol.
VVN asked if he uses any other drugs. “I does sometimes smoke a piece of a joint if somebody gives me, but I don’t buy weed or any other drugs; I only like rum.” Asked if he would like to stop drinking, he said, “You know that alcoholism is a disease, right? Yes, I wish I could stop drinking, but I don’t think that I can. I tried everything, AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), counselling, I even started to go to church, but nothing worked.” He said, “I don’t want to drink; I want to be a normal man, but whenever I get money, I end up in a rumshop. Sometimes, when I am drinking by myself I end up crying because I don’t want to be doing that.”
Latchman told VVN, “I’ve always loved gardening, “Before I started working with the lady [at the food stall] I worked for almost a year at the [Promenade] Gardens; I looked after the plants. That was the happiest time of my life. But they fired me when I went to work drunk and behaved bad in front of a set of [foreign] people. I wish I could get a chance like that again, you know, to work with plants, and I would take care not to get drunk on the work again.”
When asked what were his plans for the rest of the day, Latchman reached into his pocket, took out and showed a small bottle. He said, “I am going to drink this and get a lil high,” and then I will go and see what work [the lady] got for me to do.”