A POPULAR homeless man who sells the charitable Big Issue on the streets of a West Devon town has found wider acclaim through an article in the magazine.

Neil Stout is now attracting attention on his social media from throughout the UK, as well as passers-by in Tavistock where he has been earning a small wage by selling the Big Issue to shoppers

Neil said: ‘I’m now famous, thanks to the Big Issue which I sell. I must admit I’ve now been selling more copies since the piece. Every issue I sell gives me more of an income and having a story about me in it has made a difference. Lots of people know about it now. I think they’re taking me a bit more seriously because they can see I’ve not necessarily had an easy life. People do make assumptions about homeless people. Some people assumne its a lifestyle choice and don’t take my position in life seriously.’

Neil was showered with card and small gifts when he turned 60 last year and people he has become friends with over the years stopped in the street to wish him Happy Birthday.

He said: ‘I feel I’ve been adopted by Tavistock, it’s taken a long time, but it’s been worth it. Often it’s been people who don’t live here, but are visitors who are the most friendly. I’ve made some friends here. Lots of people stop and chat and it makes my day, especially when it’s quiet and bad weather.

‘They now recognise me and stop for a chat and I have an in-depth talk about politics and the environment. I’ve created a men’s group, by default, which is good for men, who don’t like talking about their worries and feelings. Then I find myself frozen out of the chat, which is fine, because it’s serving a need.’

Neil sofa surfs when he is not staying at the temporary housing at a bunk house in the Union Inn in Tavistock because he has nowhere permanent. He became homeless after jobs in the building industry and was unable to work and was effectively evicted from his home when he got into arrears with payments.

He then lived with his mother as her carer until she died four years ago, just before Covid. Strangers then offered him help, as they do now in a smaller way, offering drinks during the worst weather as he stands under the arches outside the now-closed M&Co clothes shop.

Neil has been the butt of cruel jokes, such as when someone offered him somewhere to stay in a shed as a temporary home, but it turned out to be a joke. Neil told the Big Issue: ‘People don’t understand how important an offer like that is to a homeless person. I spend a lot of time walking around with a heavy rucksack on my back with my whole world inside.’

Neil has always worked where he can: ‘I like having the independence of earning. Otherwise I’m at the mercy of wherever I’m staying or at the very least, the weather.’