By James Mudd
09 June 2020
David Fussel is a member of the Reconnect team. He is currently homeless and advises us on our development so that it addresses the needs of the homeless community. In 2018, whilst living on the streets he filmed, produced and directed a horror film ‘Mystic Demon Killer’. This achievement attracted the attention of Vice Magazine who filmed a documentary on him, The Homeless Film Director, in April 2019. I caught up with David to find out how the pandemic has affected him and his community.
Where are you staying at the moment and how did you get there?
I’m in a hotel right now but it took me 5 weeks to get in here. Initially I got placed in an emergency shelter and then they moved me in here. The government released this money to key charities to allow homeless people to access emergency accommodation, but they didn’t streamline their processes. They operated just the same as before the crisis, asking hundreds of questions and creating long delays. People like me who have tried to avoid the system in the past were last in line.
Have you been able to access enough food?
At the start of the pandemic, most of the organisations that fed us had said “Unless the government closes us down, we will be here to support you”. However, it was not long after most of them closed. They deserted both us and their premises leaving us with little other than a note in their windows. I really don’t know if many of them will come back after all this. With so many places closed we had a real problem accessing food. We have been queuing up in greater and greater numbers at the few places left and, as you know, many of us don’t feel comfortable being visible to the public.
The press reported that the government had placed everyone in hotels so the public were left thinking everything had been taken care of. Yes, you might be in a hotel room but you weren’t being fed. Nobody had thought about feeding us and the support that remained open was just so random that you often had to travel miles to access it. People were going hungry and, in particular, there was a real problem getting hold of meat. You can only survive for so long on bowls of rice.
I have to say though that the Salvation Army in Chalk Farm were absolutely fantastic. They limited numbers and made adjustments inside to allow social distancing. In doing so they persuaded the council to let them stay open and continue to feed people.
I believe you are working on a COVID documentary with Vice magazine?
That’s right. I had worked with Vice before, back in April 2019, when we filmed a documentary about how I had directed a horror film whilst living on the street, so they knew I owned my own kit. They reached out and asked if I could start filming a documentary diary on all that was happening from the point of view of people living on the streets.
I guess you are in a perfect position to document what is going on. Did you find that people opened up to you?
Everyone knows me and I try my best to be a mouthpiece for the homeless community. A video of the documentary diary is available here.
How much information and advice reached you at the start of the pandemic?
We all have Smartphones, or at least 90% of us do, but within a very short time they ran out of battery. There was virtually nowhere left to charge them. Information leaflets were being published by the government and charities, but they weren’t getting through because all the usual places of distribution had closed.
Have people been maintaining social distance?
Social distancing was a guideline rather than a rule but I think a lot of this was being arbitrarily thought up. We’ve tried our best to do it but in a queue of 140 hungry people it’s difficult to maintain especially when you see it doesn’t apply at the point of serving. To be honest I haven’t seen that many people getting sick. It certainly hasn’t affected us in the way it has the elderly. I think it’s partly because our immune systems are pretty strong because of our daily exposure to germs and dirt.
What’s next for you? Any plans for the future?
I’ve been told that I have to leave this hotel soon. I think I will go and live in the woods for a while. I’m not going to engage with the system again after how I’ve been treated. They seem to have a real problem with the fact I’m self-employed. I earn bits of money here and there at the moment but it’s just a trickle. However, I prefer to rely on this rather than go through the system. I’m excited by this new Vice project but I recall they can take a little while to pay. I am hoping it will be enough for me to look after myself for a while and not need to rely on handouts. My long-term dream is to raise enough money to buy a small boat to live on. That way I can stay out at sea sometimes and visit coastal towns in the summer.