Mr Hopgood was a regular feature of URBANarmy several years back. At the time I could not get my head around how I could not help this elderly, very eccentric homeless guy who had been made street homeless when a hostel closed for a refurb. Everyday Mr Hopgood would come into the community lounge at Poplar for breakfast, lunch, warmth and a sleep. Everyday we would help Mr Hopgood in with his over sized suitcase. Everyday Mr Hopgood would sit and create his own atmosphere as the aroma of street aftermath would percolate!
Mr Hopgood had a story. They say a brilliant mind that for some unknown catalyst went over the edge. He spent most of his adult life in hostels refusing to bath or on the streets. He came to us in the winter frozen. He came to sleep and to eat. There he would find warmth and tolerance among the mothers and their children. Then at 1:30pm after a lunch off he would shuffle. It broke our hearts. We couldn’t get him into any hostels; social services didn’t want to know mainly because he smelt, that he wouldn’t engage with resettlement programmes. Always a failure on their bureaucratic tick-lists.
Well we fought. We fought social services; we fought our local street rescue team; we fought a local hostel; we fought our own organisation’s social services. It got bloody! After 8 weeks of this old man sleeping on the streets we got him in a local hostel. I’ll not forget the look on his face when he was accepted and felt safe again. Not long after he died, three of us said goodbye to Mr Hopgood at his funeral. We said goodbye not knowing anything about his life. Not knowing if he had family parents; wife; children. Not knowing what caused him to lose his job, to become street homeless. Not knowing what was in his preposterously large suitcase that he dragged everywhere around the streets.
That is until a couple of days ago. A niece researching her family googled 'Mr Hopgood'. Then 'facebooked' Gordon Cotterill and a bit more of the story unfolded.
"...Roy was born during the war in East London. When he was only a toddler, when the air raid shelter that he and his mother were hiding in took a direct hit from a omb. His mother was killed; Roy was found clutching to her crying. ....It seems evident from what you wrote on the internet Gordon that you cared for Roy, and for that I’m eternally grateful..."
Of course it wasn’t just me that cared, the team at Poplar would do what any poor, neighbourhood inner-city corps would do. There will always be Mr Hopgood’s and there will always be reasons why; it is just that mostly we need to ‘be’ and ‘do’ without knowing.
Mostly I use puesdonyms when I write, sometimes I don't - I'm glad Mr Hopgood was always really Mr Hopgood.