Homelessness

Sometimes you want to write about a subject but it never seems to be the right time.  Or there's not a good way to start or finish.  Sometimes you just have to wait and that post will come.

Over many personal posts on this blog I have mentioned, in passing, that I left home at the age of eighteen and then became pregnant with my daughter.  There's always been a slight gap in that story which I have never talked about.  Homelessness.

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After I flounced out of the family home to be with the man I had fallen in love with we realised that we had nowhere to stay.  It was summer and we were resourceful but after a couple of nights dossing on a friend's sofa and the occasional night in the car, the prospect of going it alone didn't seem quite so exciting.  We secured another couple of nights at a friend's house and scoured the local newspaper for a flat that didn't require too much of a deposit and ended up in a bedsit in Blackpool.  The bed pulled down from the wall and there wasn't enough room to swing a cat but we had a roof over our heads.

Due to a number of circumstances that involved a loony landlord who would enter the flat when we were out and him disconnecting the electric because he thought we had been fiddling the meter, we couldn't stay at the flat.  We ended up in a local hotel that doubled as a hostel.  Over the next few weeks we would have to vacate the hotel for a few hours a day, cook our meals on a sandwich toaster and we had a tab at a local cafe which we paid up at the end of each fortnight.  The hostel occupants ranged from single mums to drug addicts, all cooped up in their own small space trying to survive.  Just waiting.  The atmosphere was strained.  We were also no closer to getting our own house because we had no money for a deposit for rented accommodation and there was no authority housing available because our situation wasn't considered urgent.  It was a vicious circle.

We transferred to Preston and ended up in a family hostel which was much more like a community.  We made friends in there who we are still in touch with now.  I ended up in hospital due to complications in my pregnancy and our housing application was rushed through.  We were provided with a two bedroom house not far from the centre of Preston two weeks before I had our baby.

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We were lucky in a way.  It could have been so much worse.  The fact that we knew the hostel facilities were available was always a bonus.  But homelessness is never completely eradicated, no matter where you live.  It may be less apparent in a small village but is a huge problem in cities.


At the beginning of December, I caught a tweet from a blogger friend of mine, Tinuke.  If I remember rightly, she was admonishing herself for not having a nap before going out to work that night.  Knowing that she doesn't normally work nights I inquired as to what she was doing.  We had an interesting conversation about her mission that night which had to be kept fairly under wraps.  She has expanded on that conversation here.

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Last month I ventured down to the City of London to take participate in a street count as a volunteer for Broadway Homelessness and Support Charity. It is a government regulation that each Council should participate in a count of all rough sleepers in order for there to be a national record of how the situation is improving/worsening. 

We got set to count the rough sleepers a little after midnight, everyone was split up into cells with a police person and homeless shelter outreach worker, a grid map of the streets we were to cover and torches to help us peer into nooks and crannies. The rain was pelting it down and my ‘waterproof’ coat was no match for the torrential downpour. I hoped I’d see no one unlucky enough to be caught out in the wind and the cold and thankfully I didn’t. Other teams did though, some groups reporting 5/6 rough sleepers in their allocated grid. 

We had to take names and other personal details from the rough sleepers that night. Some were more forthcoming than others. One man claimed he was not homeless but had chosen to sleep outside that particular night as he had drunk too much and decided it best to sleep in a doorway, I’m not sure if this was embarrassment/pride or possibly even the truth? The outreach worker who I was with had been working for the charity for two decades. He knew the patch like the back of his hands and was full of stories about the many people he had helped out of homelessness and many a woeful tale of those he was unable to help.

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A couple of weeks ago a tweet from CJ de Mooi interested me.  He had started a thread on Reddit questioning why homelessness is still tolerated in the 21st Century.   Whilst it opened a conversation on what is sometimes a taboo subject, it also gave a small insight into how experiences can change our life path.

After reading the thread on Reddit, I approached CJ and asked him if he would write a little more of his story for me to feature here.  Even with his busy schedule, he did so without hesitation which goes to show how passionate he is about wanting to tackle this issue head on.  Here is what he wrote for me.

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Shortly after my 17th birthday I walked out into a rainstorm and began sleeping rough. I was escaping an abusive environment and chose a much preferable alternative but may however have thought twice had I known my homelessness would last almost 3 years. Then again, probably not - I had ensured a decade and a half of torment and would have done anything to get out. 

As someone blessed (or burdened) with a nauseating level of liberal guilt, I had always sympathised with homeless people. I saw them in doorways, under bridges and other places I couldn't comprehend they could have possibly chosen as their homes. When I found myself in the exact same position, it became clear that anyone, from any walk of life, can find himself or herself in the same situation. Most people are actually only one or two pay cheques away from serious financial trouble and a great number of the people on the streets are certainly not there by choice. 


I had come from an affluent and supposedly respectable background but because of an institutionalised refusal to accept that middle class abuse existed, I was pretty much refused any assistance. I attempted to access numerous services but as I had no apparent mental or physical disabilities, no problems with addiction or illness, I was pushed to the bottom of the queue. How bad does it have to be for a scared, vulnerable and alone teenager to be turned away from help? Well, I found out. 

A couple of months in a park in Sheffield, a year in central London and a year and a half on a staircase in Amsterdam station. Those were the exotic locations I slept, sometimes in the stereotyped cardboard box but usually just in my clothes and a coat if I could find one, sometimes from a shelter or charity clothing bin. 

I was lucky in that a chance meeting led to a career and a new start but most people never get such an opportunity. I know how fortunate I was but can never forget what I went through and refuse to sit by while homelessness is still such a national problem and scandal. On December 25th last year, I filled a bag with food and drink and went walking around Covent Garden and the Strand giving out supplies to anyone I found sleeping rough. I'd run out within 45 minutes so restocked and continued to Charing Cross where I found about 25 souls huddled together. Although most gratefully accepted the little assistance I was able to offer, one poor young woman was startlingly different. No more than 30, she was laying on some sheets of cardboard clutching a half empty vodka bottle. I offered her a sandwich but she simply shook her head sadly and replied 'No thanks love, I'm just waiting to die.' 

What sort of society do we have where that is accepted behaviour? I was just out of school and forced into a life for 3 years where I was terrified, always alone and at risk from violence. Tonight, this very night in modern Britain, a child will start sleeping rough for the first time. I simply won't accept that so continue to do what I can in any small way to protect and provide for anyone in the same intolerable position. I've started a Government e-petition which I hope will raise awareness and gain the necessary signatures to be considered. Please sign it so we can move forward with what is a source of national shame in the 21st century. 


What I went through made me the person I am today. Thousands of people unfortunately don't get that chance. End homelessness now!

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You are probably reading this post whilst sat at home, cozied up with your laptop or smart phone.  You may have financial difficulties but at least you have a roof over  your head.  There are many levels of homelessness but that doesn't mean any of them are right.  Do you think that homelessness is a choice or a situation beyond control?  Do you have to have access to the right information and resources to be able to change your situation or is everyone waiting for that lucky break?   Let me know if you've ever experienced homelessness yourself.

If you've read this far may I ask you to sign the petition to show your support.  Offering services and having provision availability is often the first (or only) step needed to create a safe environment.

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Related Links
CJ de Mooi on Twitter
CJ de Mooi website
End Homelessness e-petition 
Broadway Homeless and Support

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