Hey there, if you don’t know me I think it’s a good idea to mention now that trying to prevent Youth Homelessness is one of the topics that I have SO much passion for. This stems from personal experience of being homeless/roofless and moving on with my life to the point of happiness with how far I have come.
I’ll take you back to when I was 18:
In November 2008 I split from my ex-partner whom I lived in Hereford with. I was in college and family relationships were strained and nearly broken completely. I sofa-surfed for most of 3 months until I was finally housed in a outreach supported house in January 2009. The sofa surfing lost me many friends by the end of it and I had to drop out of college fairly quickly into December because I couldn’t sustain my education whilst I had no home. Just before becoming homeless, I was recruited as a member on the Herefordshire Shadow Board for young people by College which met monthly and talked about different policy that would effect young people in the County. This Board would later become where my youth work career was born.
I was made homeless. I had my worldly belongings on me in a sports bag and a rucksack… 2 bags with my life in them. I had 20p in my pocket for over 6 weeks, could not work, could not claim benefit, could not do anything other than call up anyone I could to get somewhere to stay that night. I sometimes stayed on Nightstop which is a charitable programme where you are put up by a host family for a night – fed, watered, hot water and a bed for the night or more.
SHYPP in Hereford were my lifesavers and without them, I would not be here at all today – FACT.
SHYPP, which celebrated it’s 10 year anniversary when I was in the service, were the key to me being able to get a flat, gain employment and eventually get to University! But before all of that, they offered me a support worker who became the person I relied on for everything. Alongside that they also gave me counselling and this enabled me to have my 1 hour in the week to vent and let off steam/cry… Sometimes it would be endless crying.
When I was walking around each day because I couldn’t stay in SHYPP, Nightstop or the Library I was calling people, going to the Council and trying to get food – I walked over the Wye Bridge to go to Asda.. With the mentality and situation I was in, I thought it would be easier to jump into the murky waters below. However something stopped me every time… I had a warm feeling inside because I knew that my worker, counsellor and friends were there for me. My drive and determination to get better from this situation was what stopped me from ending it.
However there was a night that neither SHYPP, friends or anyone else could help me with. When I had no where to stay, I rung up Herefordshire Council to see if they had emergency accommodation for that night. The answer wasn’t just a simple no..
You’re 18, single male and can fend for yourself. Go sleep under the bridge
To which I asked, in shock but determination, could they provide a blanket, pillow and duvet for me to do that she just simply said “no”.
It was this night when I slept in the lobby of Hereford’s Lloyds TSB Bank (below), inside the brown door below on a Wednesday night.
(Picture credit: http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/3473070)
This was the night my life went somewhere I never imagined. I was on my own with my only belongings in the 2 bags that I had on me. No money. No covers. Only the clothes I was wearing. I was quite warm, I had eaten a little and I was above a CCTV camera in a sheltered cashpoint lobby… It was something.
What did I feel that night? How did I feel?
Suicide. Desperation. Hate. Anger. Loss. Panic. Loneliness. Scared. Fright. Hurt. Sadness. Shame.
I got housed on the 12th January 2009 in Union Street, Hereford and this was the start of my mental and physical breakdown. I lost my hair, couldn’t eat, couldn’t get out of bed, lost my friends, my independence was even more limited (compared to being on the streets, weirdly). I went through the mental trauma of losing my home, education, friends and everything else. The main recovery from being homeless for 3 months, took over triple the time – 10 months. A whole 10 months of not being able to do anything remotely useful or helpful… However I did start going back to the Shadow Board who were supportive of keeping me on and supporting me through my recovery. I initiated a campaign within the Board to educate the young people about homelessness, and my Homeless Prevention Worker (ironic title by this point) came in to do a talk about the legislation and law around homelessness and young people. I then became a trainee Youth Worker with the Council and took a step up from being a Board Member to helping out, and running my own project.
And so after 2 and a bit years of living in Supported Housing through SHYPP, I gained independence and got a flat of my own in Sudbury Avenue, Hereford. This didn’t last long before I wanted to go back to my home county of Worcestershire. I can’t tell you why I wanted to go back after saying “I never want to go back” 2 years before but something inside me was forcing me out of Hereford. Luckily, I found a house share in Worcester to move into, a job and some talking to my family again. So I moved to Worcester and have found my feet in a flat, University, a career and aspirations for the future.
Please check out my experience of going back to the town and spot I slept in for a radio interview here: Hugo and the Streets Pt. 2: 7 years on, going back to where it all happened.
10 Year Anniversary of SHYPP: http://www.shypp.co.uk/module/news/display/newsdisplay.aspx?news=17
Acknowledgments: I owe my life to Herefordshire SHYPP and the Youth Involvement Team/Youth Service at Herefordshire Council (as it was) for all the care, support, help, care and most importantly love they showed me. I cannot say how much it really helped, from the bottom of my heart. Thank you x