From stage to shoe shines: the homeless actor helping others in London

Drew Goodall, founder of Sunshine Shoeshine, photographed in London, February 2017. Courtesy of Sunshine Shoeshine

"I didn't want to face my parents. When I left home I was the big hope. I couldn't face the ignominy of having to go back with my tail between my legs"

By Lee Mannion

LONDON, Oct 26 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - As an actor in London, Drew Goodall was living his dream appearing alongside Brad Pitt and Hugh Grant in films and on stage until he suffered a severe loss of confidence and lost all work, his home and ended up living on the streets.

For about six months in 2001, Goodall was homeless, begging for food and fending off attacks by drunks.

But Goodall, now 43, said he came across a way to turn his life around when a commuter who spoke to him regularly suggested he try shining shoes to earn a living.

Using some of the money accrued from begging, he bought a brush and a tin of polish and headed into London's financial district to shine shoes.

Without a licence to trade on the street, he initially had to keep an eye out for the authorities who would move him on. But after six months, one of his regulars suggested he come and offer shoe shines inside the office where he worked.

His business grew as he moved his services into more banks and financial institutions and in 2012 he set up Sunshine Shoeshine as a social enterprise to help other people who were disadvantaged or found themselves on the street like he had.

For the numbers of homeless are rising, according to the homelessness charity Crisis, which said 4,134 people slept rough across England on any given night in 2016 - a 16 percent increase on 2015 and more than double the amount in 2010.

Goodall now employs eight people - some formerly homeless and some disadvantaged - as shoe shiners who work in more than 50 businesses a week and he gives a proportion of the company's annual turnover of about 250,000 pounds ($330,000) to charity.

"It came organically. I didn't set up to, in my own way, try to change the world," Goodall, dressed in smart three piece suit, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

NO QUICK FIX

"There is no magic button for homelessness. It's something that will always be there ... (but) just giving someone some time, talking to them, that goes a long way to finding a solution to homelessness."

Goodall said he has helped about 40 people to turn around their lives since 2012 as well as letting the companies where his shiners work choose a charity for five percent of profits.

"To date we have given in excess of 20,000 pounds ($26,000)," said Goodall, who took a degree in acting before appearing in London's West End theatres as well as in the 2000 crime thriller "Snatch" and the 2002 comedy drama "About a Boy".

He said scathing theatre reviews destroyed his confidence and that stopped his acting career.

"I didn't want to face my parents. When I left home I was the big hope. I couldn't face the ignominy of having to go back with my tail between my legs," said Goodall.

He said this unwillingness to ask for help because of a feeling of failure is common among the homeless.

Goodall said he was pleased to find his clients appreciated being able to help people with their purchase of a shoeshine - and this could also be a major boost to his workers' confidence.

"Often it's transformative. It gives people a sense of purpose, something to get up for in the morning," Goodall said.

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