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Impetuous behaviour

December 01 2023

Reflecting on a difficult day, agonising over the sorry state of many hostels and day centres. By Jason Electricity

I march up to the intercom buzzer, hitting it with my palm. It has been a long walk from Cambridge city centre to this place. A black steel gate clicks open. I push hard against the barrier as it crashes against the building’s dirty whitewashed wall. The river Cam flows past metres away full of tranquillity.

The entrance into the day centre for rough sleepers beckons footsteps away. I trudge in. A smiling man touching 50 sits on a worn leather settee holding a mug of tea. Two unshaven and scruffily dressed men lounge in threadbare armchairs watching my every move. The unwelcoming atmosphere and joylessly furnished room make me want to rush straight out.

“Can I help you?” the smiling man asks with a searching look. “Is it possible to get a wash? I’m homeless,” I grunt, vulnerability encircling. His eyes narrow before pointing to a marked white door. His attitude unnerves me. I barge through a battered door. He makes a sarcastic remark to his colleagues as I go in. “Fucking prick,” one of them spits. I ignore the goading comment.

I throw my rucksack down on the red-tiled floor as my temper soars, struggling to understand their problem. A metal basin with dripping taps is attached to the inside wall. The toilets in the cubicles are shit-stained and absent of loo paper. I turn the hot water tap. Cold and dirty brown water sputters out. Anger pulsates as I smash my fist into a flimsy-panelled cubicle door. A hole appears. “What’s that?” the smiling man shouts in alarm. I lift my bag and wrench forward the battered door. “There is no fucking hot water,” I seethe. He moves in uncomfortable silence, reaching for his phone. The dishevelled visitors look over in exasperation and expectation.

The smiling man is calling the police. Without delay, I dash out and strike a green button on the gate’s frame. The gate clicks open. Outside, warm sunlight caresses my face. I attempt to run, frightened at the thought of being arrested. I head in the direction of a housing estate, conscious the smiling man might be watching or following. Minutes after leaving and in spiralling fear, I hear a siren blaring in the distance.