Tag Archives: homelessness

I met a man with a family. He left home to see what it feels like to be homeless…

Manchester – Piccadilly station

When I was at college, one exercise we did was to record a normal conversation, then transcribe it exactly, word-for-word. When you do that, you realise the chaos of conversations. No sentences. Thoughts and sentences bounce around randomly, half-finished and intermingled. That interests me.

In my online blogs, I tend to ‘clean-up’ what is quoted, so it reads – I hope – more smoothly. And I cut for length. But below is a full and exact, un-cut transcription of a conversation I had at the weekend.

I was in Manchester on Sunday, at Amanda Fleming’s horror short film festival.

On Sunday night, I was sitting in Manchester’s Piccadilly station and was approached by a man asking for money. I almost never give money to beggars because I am always dubious what they will spend it on. 

But I had just bought a pack of two tiramisus from a nearby Sainsbury’s Local. So I gave him one and we ate them together on the bench.

He told me he had decided to live on the streets for a day to see what being homeless was like. He told me his very small daughter had died a few months ago. And (although this was Sunday) he had left home on Friday to see for a day what being homeless was like.

I obviously never necessarily believe what I am told by people asking for money. So I cannot guarantee anything he told me is true. 

But I switched on my iPhone during the conversation. Obviously, a vast invasion of his privacy. I will no doubt rot in hell. But I have obscured any details which could identify the man who may or may not be who he said he was. I have called him David. That is not the name he gave me. Everything else he said is quoted exactly.

BEWARE: This is quite long but, with luck, progresses interestingly!


JOHN: When did you leave home? Friday?

DAVID: We’ve really been depressed. All the family’s been depressed because of the loss. Me wife said: “You need a night out with your friends.” So every weekend she’s dressing me up well: “You’ll look nice tonight.”

Anyway, I got wrong train. I got there 15 minutes. They were only 15 minutes behind me. So… But they were on the next train. They were only 15 minutes.

JOHN: You decided you wanted to be a homeless man for a day?

DAVID: Yeah. I want to go home now. I want your advice on how to get to (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY) from here. Can you tell me how to get to (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY) or (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY) or…

JOHN: Best to phone your wife. I’m only up here for the day. Why did you want to be homeless for a day? Are you a sociology professor or something?

DAVID: I just wanted to see what they went through and I couldn’t do it. I could not do it. I am here, going home now.

JOHN: You started on Friday? Or this morning?

DAVID: Friday, I got the fuck beat out of me before my friends got there. I smoked.

JOHN: What? Weed?

DAVID: No. I train (PUBLIC SERVICE WORKERS) believe it or not. I train them how to be safe when (THEY DO THEIR JOB), hopefully. And they call me a chicken coward, because I’m the one that can’t do it, so I teach it. There’s a slightly higher grade that I am on, but we don’t live very well.

JOHN: So you’re a (PUBLIC SERVICE) person.

DAVID: I’m a (PUBLIC SERVICE WORKER) trainer, I would say. Trainer, supervisor, yeah, yeah. I do training courses: gotta pass it. I’ve got a company. A few people work for me as well.

JOHN: So you decided you wanted to be homeless…

DAVID: I’m coming out of the hospital. I’m in Manchester. I discharged meself cos I’m pissed-off and I didn’t want to be near anyone. I’m not staying in that bed no longer. I’m not doing this. But there was a man and I said: “Could I have half of your cigarette?” 

And he said: “No.”

I said: “I’m not without money. I would give you a pound.”

(AT THIS POINT, A HOMELESS MAN CAME UP TO US) 

HOMELESS MAN: “I’m sorry for asking…Can you spare a…”

JOHN: I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

DAVID: Ay. Ay-up, ay-up, ay-up. I’ve just been like this all day.

(THE HOMELESS MAN WALKED AWAY)

I’ve got five people in me family. Well, four people in my family now. Because of me wages… Because of me dad’s business, me dad says: “You’ll never ever, ever, ever raise £60,000.”

I said: “If you’d sell it me for 60,000… 60,000?” 

He says: “60,000? It’s worth ten times that,” he says. “If you ever raise £60,000 on yer own” he’ll sell a share of it to us. Anyway, I bought an ice cream van. I bought an ice cream van… Tell me when you’re bored.”

JOHN: No,no. You’re keeping me warm inside the station. This is good.

DAVID: It were very very hard with the ice cream van, as I found out and I had to go begging back to me dad, saying: “It’s winter time. I’m going out and I’m taking £15 and using £10 diesel, I’m using £3 stock; I’m making £2, £3, £4 a day, dad. Please bail me out. 

He said: “I told you this. I told you that.” Blah blah blah.

JOHN: I’ve always wondered what ice cream van men do in the winter.

DAVID: What they do in the winter is what I didn’t know. They save a lot of fucking money through the summer.

JOHN: Anyway… Back in the day and being homeless…

DAVID: Yeah. I tried it. What time is it now?

JOHN: When’s your train?

DAVID: I’ve no idea. I haven’t even booked to get. What time is it? Is it half past? It might not come.

JOHN: Almost half past ten. Where are you going to? (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY)? There’s one at 10.47.

DAVID: Where? Where to? Where to?

JOHN: To (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY). Platform 1. 10.47. That’s in 20 minutes time.

DAVID: How do I get to get from (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY) then to get to (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY) or (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY)?

JOHN: I have no idea. God knows.

DAVID: Is there one for (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY) or is there owt?

JOHN: No. There’s just Crewe, Leeds, Buxton, Chester… and Blackpool, for some reason. If you can get to (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY), you can get your wife to collect you.

DAVID: Yeah. You’re right. You’re right. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. But I haven’t got a penny to ring.

JOHN: (LAUGHS) Was this a very long-winded Can I have some money for the telephone routine?

DAVID: No. I’m sorry, mate. No. I will not accept. Please do not do that. Do not do that. No. I didn’t mean it like that. There’s free phones. There’s free phones. I didn’t believe it. I dialled my dad on his mobile. I dialled him on his landline. I dialled me wife. Are there any of me kids there I can talk to? I broke down in tears. I said: “Daddy’s staying out here another night if he possibly can… just to see what it’s like to be homeless. I’ll be home tomorrow”.

I don’t think I need any money to get a ticket. Are people still working in that little hole?

JOHN: The information booth? Looks like it.

DAVID: What time’s that train to (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY)?

JOHN: 10.47 – 17 minutes time.

DAVID: Something happened and I went absolutely berserk and I absolutely lost the plot completely, tried a few drugs, really dangerous stuff.

JOHN: Today? Or after the ice cream van?

DAVID: No. (LAUGHS) After the death of me daughter.

JOHN: Oh, yes. Sorry.

DAVID: You’re not following this right, are you… We’ll get there. We’ve a long time, haven’t we?… No, it were me daughter. At least I could laugh then. It were the first time I could actually laugh and say: “No, me daughter; not the ice cream man.” That’s first time I’ve laughed and said her name. Me daughter.

(PAUSE)

JOHN: That might be the last train to (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY). There isn’t another one on the board. You’ve got 17 minutes. That might be the last one.

DAVID: What, now?

JOHN: In 16 minutes.

DAVID: I’m gonna go there first (the information booth) and see if there’s one gonna take me to (ANOTHER NORTHERN CITY). That there (the tiramisu) were absolutely beautiful and I’ve had absolutely nowt to eat all day. I got a slice of pizza. 

Some dear said: “I haven’t got any money for you, sweetheart, but, if you want something to eat, you can have something.” 

It’s fucking dangerous out there; it’s shit; I’ve never seen anything like it. That spice – just with phtum phtum-phtum. You can see in street with… we buy each other… and there’s police there and… It’s in front of them. They can’t do anything about it. There’s nothing about it.

JOHN: Is spice the big thing now?

DAVID: Not where I live. I’ve never noticed it. That’s why I… “Can I have a drag of your ciggie?” and he said: “No!” –  Because he paid for it, obviously. A lot of money. £5. I says: “I’ll give you a pound for a drag.” He says: “Yes. But only two drags or three drags. Do you want three drags?”

I thought: He’ll charge me £1 for two or three drags? A roll-up, not a cig. A fuckin’ roll-up. But I got nowt. So I took it. 

I had two drags and I started having third drag and I started feeling funny. So I were walking about, didn’t really know where I was, very disorientated. Couldn’t find train station, bus station, nothing, slept where I thought I oughta sleep, got absolutely annihilated – me wallet has got money in, me phone, me credit cards got took off me; it’s cost me nearly £700 so far. 

It’s not too bad. I’ll get most of it back on insurance. I’ve got quite a good job. I’m not rich. I am not rich. But I have a good job as you can imagine – who trains the (PUBLIC SERVICE WORKERS). 

JOHN: Is the drug problem in Manchester now spice not smack?

DAVID: No, it’s not smack. No, no. It’s… No, no. Spice. Spice. But I got…

JOHN: What effect does spice have? Is it like cocaine? Kapow!!

DAVID: Have you had cocaine?

JOHN: No.

DAVID: No. So you don’t know. Cocaine goes be-weugh! But, no, I’m fairly good be-weugh, but that first one we was talking about, the… the… eh… the heroin. That’s BANG! That goes straight in. But no, the one that you said…

JOHN: Spice or cocaine?

DAVID: That is the most subtle one. That is the one you will have a sniff of and not know what it’s done to you, whatsoever, cos it’s so subtle, yeah?

JOHN: I think coke is really dangerous.

DAVID: It’s not very dangerous. I’ve sniffed thousands of…

(A MAN COMES UP AND ASKS US FOR MONEY)

DAVID (TO BEGGAR): Mate, I’m the same as you.

BEGGAR: I know you, man.

DAVID: I know you as well. I’m the same as you do. I’m just trying to get ten bob out of him (POINTING AT ME) me’sen. I’ve got another 13/14 minutes yet.

(THE MAN WALKS AWAY)

I hope them things (information booths) are open. If, for any reason, I can’t, can you lend me some money for phone? You can come with me to see that I phone me wife to pick me up.

JOHN: I’m past caring. Here, you can have £2. It’s a story. It’s a story. It’s a good story.

DAVID: Can you put my details in your phone so I can give you the £2 back for being so kind to me.

JOHN: How about £60,000? If you ARE going to make a phone call – I don’t think you are – you’ve got 11 minutes to the train leaving.

DAVID: How far is it to the fucking thing?

JOHN: I don’t know. Platform 1.

DAVID: Platform 1. Do you buy your ticket and then get on the train and they come and inspect it?

JOHN: I guess so. Platform 1.

DAVID: Platform 1?

(A YOUNG WOMAN IN HER 20s APPROACHES US)

YOUNG WOMAN: Guys, I’m really sorry to ask, but is there any chance you can spare a little bit of change for…?

DAVID: Darling, I’m in the same position as you.

YOUNG WOMAN: Are ya?

DAVID: This is me dad. He’s just come out to give me some money.

YOUNG WOMAN: Alright. No worries.

DAVID: I’m sorry, sweetheart.

YOUNG WOMAN: I’m shitting it. I’m just trying to get home.

DAVID: I’m the same. Me dad’s good to me. He feeds me chocolate.

YOUNG WOMAN: At least you’ve got a dad. 

DAVID: I wish I’d got a mum and I wish I’d got a baby. They both died.

LOUDSPEAKER ANNOUNCEMENT: The train approaching Platform 1 is the…

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Lynn Ruth Miller goes home to join The Dinosaurs of Comedy in San Francisco

In recent blogs, sharp-tongued, globe-trotting 84-year-old American comedian and belated burlesque star Lynn Ruth Miller, now based in London, has shared her experiences while doing gigs in PragueDublinBerlin, Paris and Edinburgh.

She is currently gigging back in the USA for three weeks and this is the first in a series of her thoughts about being back ‘home’…


The flight landed in San Francisco an hour late and I was greeted by cool wet California fog as I exited the airport to wait for my beloved dog sitter to collect me in his Ford pickup truck.

When he did, he informed me that the mist was not fog, but smoke from the California fires that are sweeping the northern part of the state. 

I first met Leo the Dog Sitter when I was in my late 50s and he was a young buck of 48. He came to fix my toilet and fell in love with my dogs. And that was the beginning of a friendship that has lasted almost thirty years.

It has been four years since I have been in the Bay Area and, in that time, I have diminished from 5’2” to 4’10” and Leo has contracted diabetes, arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, replaced knees and hearing that is worse than mine. We scream at one another when we both think we are whispering. 

I am staying in his Burlingame home and, after four years in London flats, I am struck with how large this house is for two people. The bedroom I am in is as large as my living room, kitchen and bathroom in London and the kitchen-sitting room area here is larger than my entire flat in London. 

Everything is on one floor. I have not climbed so much as a stair since I arrived. I am certain my leg muscles have atrophied.

On the drive home, we spoke about the homeless problem here in the Bay Area and the increasing amounts of theft. The problem is that no-one can afford to live in this area but they are so strapped for cash they cannot afford to move either. And so they struggle on. It amazes me how many people pay astronomical rents but eat food reduced for quick sale to reduce the huge credit card debt that is the elephant in everyone’s room here.

There is no middle class here. You are either rich or poor.

To make matters worse, San Francisco is a ‘sanctuary city‘ which, on the surface, seems marvellous. But what it has done is encourage homeless people to remain homeless because they are paid a substantial sum to live on the street. And the city – instead of encouraging decent sanitation habits – has employed a huge cleaning force to hose the streets of human waste each morning. Toilets are evidently passé in the city by the bay.  

Tonight I was in a show called The Dinosaurs of Comedy, at The Punchline, the place where I got my real start as a professional comedian. It is not part of their regular programming.

The Dinosaurs of Comedy was started by Michael Meehan – comedian, artist, filmmaker and general creative human being – because The Punchline refused to book him and all men his age as they were considered to old to attract an audience.  

The theory was that, if they were not TV stars or had not gained national recognition by the time they were approaching 50 or older, they were has-beens.

The comedians tonight were Johnny Steele who is one of the cleverest, most original comedians I have seen on both sides of the ocean, Larry ‘Bubbles’ Brown who has been on David Letterman’s TV show, (but not as a regular) and, of course, Michael Meehan who is a comic genius.  

I was the MC which, in the US, is the bottom of the pecking order in a line-up. However, I was unbelievably honored to be in this sharp and very clever show filled with talented yet unrecognized men who should be top of their field. 

It was far better and far more fun than I dared dream it could be.

For me, one joy was that so many people recognized me.

After all, I have been gone for four years.  

The best part though, of course, was that I opened which is the hardest job any comedian faces.

And they laughed at every joke.

Or did they just laugh at me?

Who knew? Who cares?

But home I went filled with the adrenalin of success and with money in my pocket.

The man who drove me home is a would-be comedian who has wanted to take to the stage ever since I met him at least eight years ago. He has still not absorbed the cruelty and lack of integrity of the profession here in California and he said: ”Do you think they didn’t give me a chance to go on stage at Cobbs Comedy Club because I am funnier than the MC?”  

I assured him that that was not so.  

He asked another comedian to help him write jokes and is convinced that the reason that helper has not been available is because he is afraid my friend will steal HIS jokes.  

I assured him this was not so. 

He told me he needs help writing his jokes but is afraid someone might take his ideas.  

I assured him this was not so. 

His ideas, sadly enough, are just not funny.  

… CONTINUED HERE

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Simon Caine seeks people to literally do elevator pitches for their comedy shows

Simon Caine – Glass half full or half empty?

Comic Simon Caine runs the Ask The Industry Podcast and two Facebook groups for comedy performers – The Comedy Collective and the Edinburgh Fringe Performer Collective.

“You are also doing this lift thing,” I said. “Or this elevator thing, for American readers.”

“It’s a concept,” he replied.

“That sounds like something in a Woody Allen film,” I told him. “A concept that could become a project that could become a…”

This is not Simon but could well be?

“I got a message the other day,” Simon said. “Out of the blue. No context. A message from a girl who saw me in Derby last year. It said: SAW THIS AND THOUGHT OF YOU… It was just an image of Woody Allen with a quote: Life is full of loneliness, misery, suffering and unhappiness. How good is that? She had seen that and thought of me.”

“What’s your Fringe show called this year?” I asked.

Laughter Is The Best Placebo. The strapline for the show is that my life is a constant search for emotional electrical outlets – as in I’m always charging my phone and always trying to project my emotions onto other people. The opening line of the show is that the show is an attempt to work out whether comedy has improved my life or immeasurably ruined it.”

“Which is it?” I asked.

“Definitely the latter.”

“Your fan in Derbyshire is going to love it.”

“It’s on at the Sweet Grassmarket venue, 5.00pm ever day except Wednesdays, when I get rudely awoken by the dustman.”

“I have no idea what that means,” I said, “but we will get to the rubbish later… Your elevator pitch idea is in the same venue.”

The Edinburgh Fringe Apex elevator pitch lift

“Yes. In Apex, the really posh hotel in Grassmarket. They have two lifts and they’re allowing us to commandeer one of them for a couple of hours each day on the 14th and 15th of August.

“A reviewer will get in the lift with a performer, travel 3 or 4 floors and he/she has that amount of time to pitch their show to the reviewer.

“They can do anything they want as long as they don’t touch the reviewer. They can bring in props, do a little skit, sing a song – whatever. Anything they want. Then, at the chosen floor, they get out, a new act gets in and they have the same number of floors to pitch their show.”

“So,” I said, “it literally IS an elevator pitch.”

“Yes, the idea is you get through quite a lot of pitches and the reviewer is left bilious.”

“What time of day is this?”

The performance space for the elevator pitch

“In the afternoon, I think, but we can do it at any point in the day when the reviewers are free. Kate Copstick said she might do it after your Grouchy Club show.”

“So,” I said, “even though a review is not guaranteed, if the pitch is good enough, a reviewer may come and see the show.”

“It’s an opportunity for performers who can’t afford PR,” said Simon.

“Comics at the Fringe can barely afford food,” I said, “which brings us neatly to rubbish. At the end of the Fringe, you are collecting left-over food.”

“Yes,” said Simon, “it’s a food bank collection for the homeless of Edinburgh. If you’re anything like me, you buy food for your flat but, at the very end of the Fringe, there will be some left over. So, instead of throwing it away, you can give it to people who need it much more than you ever did. People you have probably passed several times during the Fringe and not given anything to, like I don’t.

An Edinburgh street during the Fringe – amid the showbiz

“The first two years of doing it, I worked with a charity and wrongly assumed they would be run the same way as the food bank charities in London. It turned out they weren’t.

“With the one I was working with, I found out the people could only go three times a year and had to bring bank statements to prove they were too poor to have enough food.

“And it turned out they were a for-profit food bank, which didn’t make any sense to me.

“Now I have moved over to a thing called The Basics Bank, who only accept food that is not opened, and the Granton Community Orchard Garden. And there’s a third charity, The Homeless Period, who help redistribute hygiene products to women because, obviously, tampons and sanitary towels are not the cheapest things in the world and, if you are broke and living on the street, you don’t necessarily have the money to afford them every month.”

“Shouldn’t,” I suggested, “the period charity get together with the food charity and they can make black puddings?”

“I’m not giving you a reaction to that in case you use it,” replied Simon.

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An actor’s tale: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”

Peter Stanford took tea with me at Soho Theatre

Peter Stanford sipped tea at Soho Theatre Bar

The last time I blogged about Mensa member Peter Stanford was in June four years ago, when he was taking part in the annual Naked Bike Ride in London.

A couple of weeks ago, he was telling me: “Yes.  I am moving out of the hostel for the homeless to a Church’s Housing flat soon and do not know how much notice I will have. (Four hour’s notice to get in the hostel.)  Library computer running out. If you blog about me, will it affect my chances of getting acting work? Should it therefore be anonymous?”

When we met, we decided it would not.

We met in the Soho Theatre Bar.

“So currently,” I said, “you are living a transient life…”

“I am living in a hostel, yes. I was sleeping rough, living on the pavement, from last Christmas to about April this year.”

“I suppose, as an actor,” I said, “it doesn’t matter where you are.”

“And I have a bicycle,” said Peter. “I haven’t got my youth, but I have my stamina and I can cycle across London and back. Swimming and cycling I can still do.”

Why he is homeless is complicated and he feels too personal to print, as it might affect someone else.

"I have turned down two offers from producers saying: Tell your story"

Turned down 2 offers from producers saying: Tell your story

He also told me: “I have turned down two offers from producers saying: Tell your story about middle class homelessness.”

“You were,” I said, “almost in Sacha Baron Cohen’s movie Grimsby.

“Well…” he replied. “I got an email from one of the agencies saying: Would you object to being a urinating vicar in the film called Grimsby? So I told them: Not at all; sign me up. But then I never heard from them again.

“I can,” he continued, “think of other tales to destroy one’s self-image – being invited onto Take Me Out, turning up on set in my normal clothes for the role of a squatter and being told: You’ve been to costume and make-up then?

“On the other hand, I was writing out my theatrical CV the other day and it looks quite impressive. I sang at the London Palladium with Robbie Williams. I sang at the London Coliseum with ELO.”

“With Robbie Williams?” I asked.

“I was ‘a fat popstar’,”he explained. “At the time, Robbie Williams was getting a lot of flak in the press for looking fat, so he wrote a song and all these fat people ran out and sang No-One Likes a Fat Pop Star. And I’ve sung opera in my time.”

Peter Stanford: one man in his time plays many parts

Peter Stanford… “One man in his time plays many parts…”

“Weren’t you Henry VIII?” I asked.

“Yes. At Hampton Court. But my best story of being a homeless actor was when I was living on the streets. I went to the library to do my emails and was offered the chance to be the new face of Stella Artois beer. I had not told any agents that I was sleeping on the pavement.

We would be filming in Rumania, they told me, so we will put you up in a five star hotel for a week and then buy you out for eight thousand Euros. Is that acceptable?

“I told them that it was and thought that I must get the job for the irony alone. Pavement to 5 Star hotel, then back to the pavement (if I know anything about the wait before payment). I was going to be a Victorian doctor in the ads. Unfortunately, I didn’t get it.”

“But you almost got it,” I asked, “by going to the library?”

Peter’s multiple London library cards

Peter’s has multiple London library cards

“Oh, every day I go to the library and log on: Wandsworth, Ealing, Kingston, Southwark, Greenwich… Westminster is good because it’s open until 9.00pm. They are all good places to go and sleep. I once fell asleep while I was cycling.”

“What?”

“Fortunately,” Peter continued, “I didn’t go under a bus. I went to other way and hit a kerb, flew through the air and landed on my knee. It woke me up.”

“So how do you survive financially?”

“When I became homeless, for the first time in my life, I signed on the dole. I had been living off my acting and living with a relative. I was always brought up to be frugal.”

“I think,” I said, “you’re allowed to work up to something like 16 hours a week and still sign on?”

“Something like that.”

“How many acting jobs do you get a month?”

“Two or three. I’ve been auditioning a lot. I was a vicar the other week. When they gave me the address, it was where they had had my uncle’s cremation last year.”

“You seem to be getting typecast as vicars,” I suggested.

“Well, I have a deep voice, so I am either good guys or bad guys. A deep voice means evil or benign. A psychopath or wise old man.”

“There’s no way out of this, is there,” I asked, “unless you get a big role?”

“There is my one-man show about James Robertson Justice,” said Peter.

“Except,” I said, “no-one remembers who he was.”

“Alas,” said Peter.

“You wrote it for yourself,” I prompted.

James Robertson Justice in his prime

Actor James Robertson Justice

“I was writing it as a one-man play about James Robertson Justice and someone was interested and, three quarters of the way through, he suddenly asked: Could you make it about Brian Blessed instead? I told him the main reason I couldn’t do that was it was based on James Robertson Justice’s life.”

“Ironically,” I said, “the best person to play the part of James Robertson Justice would be Brian Blessed.”

“That part’s taken,” laughed Peter. “By me.”

“You have already performed it?”

“Written and performed it.”

“You could do it at the Edinburgh Fringe,” I suggested.

“I could do it anywhere. I’ve got a friend for free accommodation in Edinburgh, but I have never been to the Fringe.”

Peter Stanford at Wellington Arch, London, yesterday

Peter Stanford at the Naked Bike Ride in 2012

 

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Filed under Acting, Poverty