Homeless man in Toulouse
The beardy hard face on Lazare Carnot’s Boulevard, in Toulouse. Photo by Mathieu Vergez

There are everywhere on the streets, begging for some money or some food. There are homeless. Usually, we do not know what to do with them – to give money or to ignore them. We do not know their stories, why they are where they are, and what their lives are daily.

He was sitting down there, all alone. A plastic glass with a few coins inside on the floor,  in front of him. Waiting for people’s generosity. I went to him and gave him some money – just a coin or two. And then, asked him if I could take his picture. He didn’t understand me well, the guy didn’t speak French nor English, but he saw my camera, and was surprised with my proposition. He agreed. As I was taking my pictures of him, he tried to posture, to smile at the camera, but his hard beardy face came back quickly, as he had difficulties smiling. I think I managed to take that unique wink when his face was about to change: from the smiling posture to the hard face. I thanked him, thumb up, he smiled at me one last time, and then went back to his loneliness.

As I walked away from him, I sadly remembered the lyrics of the Beatles’ song Eleanor Rigby. I could not stop feeling sorry for this man, sitting alone on the boulevard, in the October’s cold weather. How many people like this guy are living outside on the streets?

We don’t need statistics to know there are too many: You just have to go out and take a walk in town for a few minutes. Always at the same places, begging for some money or some food. And it’s always a dilemma. Should I give something or should I just walk away, pretending I didn’t notice anything or anybody?

I remember one evening, years ago. I was waiting for the tramway, and one of them came to talk to me. He didn’t ask for anything, he just wanted to talk. He told me about his life on the streets, about his dogs. He didn’t seem to be so affected with his condition, just like he didn’t care at all. He told me about the friend he had, who died freezing on the street winter before. He told me how winter could be difficult outside, lifting his shoulders up. Even when he told me this, he didn’t look that sad. A bit as if all the difficulties and pain were just the price to pay for a bohemian freedom. I know there are some people who think this way. For some, it’s a choice to live outside. For others, poverty is a path they couldn’t avoid.

I saw this man again, once, many months later. It was during winter, and it was very cold outside. He didn’t recognize me. He lied on the pavement, and when he saw me, he asked me for some money. He held a bottle of alcohol in his hands, which was almost empty. Obviously, he was drunk. I walked away.