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Lukacs Laurentiu, 38, Mercure Brigstow, Bristol

He started life in a Romanian orphanage before moving to the UK. Now, Lukacs wants to change how society views people like him

I’ve been selling The Big Issue for three months, and for me it’s a way of living more than making money. It’s a way of helping people like me to have a life. I don’t make an extraordinary amount of money but I live off The Big Issue. I want to live in Bristol and The Big Issue helps me to do that. I think the people of Bristol are beautiful, I see the Englishman as a beautiful creature.

I have been in Bristol for three years. I started as a beggar, but doing The Big Issue is a very big step upward. I’m talking at a different angle with people and this helps with behaviour. Sometimes I have bad body language and The Big Issue pushes me to be better. People tell me that I look smart now and I am trying to show them my evolution from bad to better. Even this week I am already talking to someone about a job in cleaning for two days a week. I like The Big Issue, but it is about luck and I need some regular income. I really am starting to get a life for myself in Bristol, which is nice for me because I have spent 20 years homeless.

For the first 18 years of my life I was in an orphanage in Romania, I never met my parents. I’ve worked since I was eight years old because in Romania orphans experience slavery. When I got older I tried to work in Romania but they didn’t pay me, they didn’t even employ me. I was working just to work. When I woke up to that I decided: “No, I’m not going to let my own people enslave me.” So I decided to get out of Romania and I have been homeless since then. I left like a refugee with nothing and went to Switzerland and Austria. I have a lot of rage in me about how I have been treated on the way but The Big Issue is helping me to deal with that rage so I can learn to forgive.

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Covid-19 changed my habits because the government was obliged to help me so they had to give me an address. I live in Salvation Army accommodation – I need it for the address. It is so hard to do anything without an address. It is tough on the street too. Someone beat me up for some money. It’s not the first time and I hope it is the last. I now have a rule to never sleep with money [on my person].

I get a lot of discrimination, because I am an orphan from Romania. I want to change how society views people like me. That’s my dream. Even when I talk with people on the streets I try to tell them the way they should refuse people instead of saying they “don’t have anything” and all these excuses. I teach people around me to say “Not today”. I know people cannot help me every day. I know people work hard for their earnings, I’m aware, I see it. But it’s good to know how to refuse a person because I have been refused all my life.  

The Big Issue magazine is already part of my dream. For me, how I live here is like heaven, believe me, even though everyone is telling me to ask around for support. Everybody’s asking me why I smile because I am homeless. But I have a good life because I know worse than what I have now. Sometimes I feel guilty to have such a good life on the streets.

Interview: Liam Geraghty

Mercure Brigstow, Welsh Back, Bristol, UK

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