A HOMELESS Czech immigrant who has resorted to sleeping in a garden shed still claims his life in Peterborough is better than the one he left behind.
The ET’s revelation last week that several residents in Lincoln Road had found desperate migrants had moved into their gardens has hit national headlines.
Speaking in the garden shed of a house in Lincoln Road, Jozsef Szabo (41) said he travelled to England last October from his native Karvina in the Czech Republic after hearing rumours that jobs were plentiful for immigrants in the city.
So he quit his job as a masonry labourer where he says he was paid the quivalent of 25 pence an hour by his employers and made his way to the city. But since November he has lived a desperate life in the shed of a house in Lincoln Road, sleeping in a filthy sleeping bag surrounded by cider bottles.
Speaking in broken English, Mr Szabo said: “A company said I could work for them but he would only pay me £1.50 for six hours of work. It was not enough.
“Instead, now I go from house to house and offer to help people tidy up their gardens.
“Life here is better than it was in the Czech Republic. The people are nicer here, there is no violence.
“It is not so cold either – I have a blanket and no problems sleeping.”
He claims he had been living on the streets of Karvina since 1988 and says he has given up hope of ever living in a house again.
Mr Szabo added: “I need a job. No job, no money, no house.
“I can’t live in a house. It costs £40 or £50 a week, that is too much. I have no choice, so I live here. I will always sleep outdoors.”
Given the choice he said he would turn down a one-way flight back to the Czech Republic under the National Reconnection Scheme, being piloted in the city to help struggling migrant workers back to their homeland.
He said: “I don’t want to leave Peterborough. There are no jobs in the Czech Republic.
“All I need is a little money to buy food and cider, and then I am happy.
“I don’t make any mess, I don’t do drugs. I am polite to people in the houses and I am no trouble.”
Mr Szabo regularly visits the city’s homeless centres run by St Theresa’s and the Salvation Army, which have been set up to help people sleeping rough receive basic provisions.
He said: “They are good. They give me food and wash my clothes. We do not have that in the Czech Republic.
“There are 40 or 50 of us in this area that go there. We all talk but I only have one friend here – he is also from the Czech Republic.
“A lot of the people are from Poland or Russia and I can speak to them a little bit.”
There are an estimated 10 to 12 people who sleep in the gardens in Lincoln Road which are accessible to the street by a public alleyway.
Mr Szabo is currently staying in resident Ian Treasure’s back garden.
Mr Treasure said since the ET highlighted the problem last week it has generated interest from national media, with several photographers visiting to take pictures.
But he said he has not heard any more from Peterborough City Council about the matter.
And the wider community of traders and shops is being affected by the number of homeless people in the area.
Sales assistant at a power tool shop near to the gardens, Craig Clark said: “I started working here in 2002 and it was a totally different world.
“We have had individuals come in and pinch anything they can get their hands on – screwdrivers, gloves, the lot.
“If they’re not in the shop they are hanging around outside. I definitely think it affects our trade.
“People don’t want to come into the shop if there are a gang of drunk people outside the shop’s front door.”
Lincoln Road grocer Ahmed Ali said: “Some come into the shop and either steal things or try to haggle for a cheaper price.
“I say we cannot do that but they just say they have no money. It is sad, but very frustrating.
“Two or three things are stolen every day. I have got the police involved but nothing happens.
“Six months ago I was even assaulted. A man was taking a case of pineapples so I told him to stop and he punched me in the face.”
However, off-licence owner Shafiq Mohammed said: “They are regular customers and I think they are good people. They pay the full amount and don’t steal from me.
“They mainly come in to buy alcohol, especially cider. They are quite dirty though so people may dislike that.”