So you think you understand homelessness. After you listen to this week’s guest you may want to think again. Paul Atherton was born in Cardiff in 1968 and has been homeless this time round for over 10 years, but his story will probably surprise, confound, and inspire you. You see—at three months old Paul was abandoned in a tent at a disused airfield in Cardiff.
Today Paul is a director and TV/film producer in London. His work has been praised for the use of art as a social commentary, dealing with tough issues from racism, sexism, domestic violence, and homelessness—all the while suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and fighting every step of the way with Government institutions for what is rightfully his.
This frank discussion will open your eyes to a side of London that is little known and understood by us, but lived each day by Paul and hundreds like him. This is Your London Legacy.
“Just cause I’m living on the streets doesn’t mean anything other than – society has failed me. I haven’t failed within society.”
Paul was left in a tent by his 19 year old mother after social services refused to take him in, holding onto the belief that it was better for a child to be with its mother…even if that mother was living in a tent city. Starting off from the very lowest of circumstances, Paul has had an incredible journey that saw him fighting prejudice for the color of his skin all the way to the right to live and have residence.
Paul was 15 when he went into a children’s home and went to a family unit home from there – and after bouncing around from home and school, he ended up at university at 22. He’d worked everything from pubs to dressing up as Santa Clause and ended up studying business which led to him opening several of his own. He found that his nature of survival is what spurred his entrepreneurial spirit not money or fame.
“18 months later – the Information Commissioner’s Office sent me a letter saying, Dear Mr. Atherton – we apologize for the delay in getting back to you. That 18 months took my life away.”
Do to a credit mess up through no fault of his own—Paul was unable to keep his flat, maintain a credit card, and it was an event that started an issue with health benefits and employment that has rippled through his life. He suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome which can leave him completely immobile for long periods of time—including the hospital for a total of 3 months.
Having seen the ins and outs of how the system can fail its citizens, Paul has set out to change the public’s perception of what being homeless encompasses—the full spectrum of it so to speak. His first project started off as a documentary based off real life domestic violence and was released to raise awareness and funds for domestic abuse. His other films deal with living in a car and one of his current projects is called “Displaced” to dispel myths about homelessness in London and features objects from Paul’s life that he’s held onto. What’s driving him right now is a play he’s written called “50 Years of Trying” which Paul call’s Kafka’s “The Trial” but for real and about his life. It’s being tested before a live audience on March 16th and will be a condensed version of what the whole play may look like. He’s also working on a photographic exhibition titled “Paul Atherton’s Greatest Londoners” and showcases 12 London citizens who have shown Paul unending support and respect throughout his life.