Monday, 4 July 2011


There has been so much talk this weekend around homelessness and that really saddens me, I thought I would write a blog about my time working for a homeless charity. Firstly I will explain why I chose to work for this charity and why the subject of homelessness is so close to my heart.
I have touched briefly in a previous blog on my family losing our home in the last recession, I had 3 children, 2 dogs and a cat when we lost our home, we had done everything possible to keep a roof over our heads, been sensible, worked hard etc but we were still destined to lose our family home and it is a time in my life I shall never forget. I am ashamed to say up to that time I probably viewed homeless people the same as every one else, if I thought about them at all, I.e. They were dirty tramps, drug addicts or alcoholics, beggars, down and outs as they were called. I remember clearly how I was made to feel by the council we had to approach for help, We were treated as if we had brought it on ourselves, they tried to scare us by telling us the five of us would be in one room in a shared house, then they told us the family pets couldn't go into temporary accommodation with us and would have to go. I remember the trauma, the long fight just to get treated like human beings. I had always worked in the caring profession and at this time I was working for Social Services in the community with the elderly but due to having Psoriasis and the threat then of MRSA my GP had told me to look for less 'hands on' work. I had at that time got all my counselling qualifications and was working toward my Masters in Psychology so when this offer of employment came up I felt it suited me perfectly.It was a small charity serving my home town and the outlying villages mainly, there were 3 members of staff when I joined the charity, this dwindled to just 2 of us a year later. We were funded originally by the lottery fund and even managed to get a second term of funding from them which was unheard of because of the work we were doing. funding was always a major problem as we weren't a 'cute' charity I.e. Animals or children etc and many people were of the opinion that homeless people were just lazy layabouts who could change their situation if they chose to. We worked tirelessly to change that opinion. A simple change in circumstances and you could go from being a home owner or a tenant to being on the street, sleeping on friends sofas, in a hostel. Probably the most common one we found was family breakdown, teenagers who had fallen out with parents, if they were over 16 years of age the council wouldn't help them, if they were lucky enough to find a private landlord it could only be a room in a shared house and even then benefits wouldn't pay quite enough so they ended up having nothing to live on. Husbands/partners who were thrown out of the marital home had no chance with the council either unless they were considered vulnerable and believe me their version of vulnerable was very harsh. Then there were the alcoholics and the drug addicts whose reasons for become homeless were many and varied but no less important or sad. I could go on and on but thought that the best way to help you to understand would be to tell you the stories of a few of my clients ( names changed of course)
Mr A was 47 years old, he lost his job a few years previous to me meeting him. He tried frantically to find himself another job but over time as the rejections kept coming through he became more and more depressed until he turned to alcohol. Alcohol became his friend and this friend cost him dearly, it cost him his family, it cost him his home and he ended up sleeping on park benches. On the day that I met Mr A he had been to see the council to beg for help, they gave him the charity telephone number and he told me he sat on the park bench with his last 50p in his hand and debated whether to spend it on one more can of larger or make that phone call, he called me and after much persuasion he came in to see me in person. I worked long and hard with Mr A, not only was he homeless, although that was our first major thing to sort out but also he had lost all self esteem he disliked himself intensely, he's confidence was rock bottom. Working with a kind Private landlord I managed to find him a room in a shared house, after weeks of continuing to work through his feelings and his problems with him Mr A started to rebuild his life. It wasn't an easy journey but bit by bit Mr A started to recapture some of what he had lost. I managed to secure a place in college for him on a business study course, he continued to see me for support and to work through the emotions that had taken him to the place where he had found himself, but imagine my pride when six months later he came into my office carrying a briefcase, wearing a suit, clean-shaven and looking every bit the businessmen he was becoming. Slowly over time he was able to regain the trust of his family, the last time I saw him he was still living in the shared house which had worked out really well for him and he was working for an accountancy firm and training to become an accountant himself. He said that was the best 50p he had ever spent his life.
Next meet Simon, he was found wandering around in the town in the early hours of the morning by the police. He had no idea how he came to be here, no idea of where he had come from, infact no idea of who he was. After taking him to the hospital it was discovered that apart from a bump on the head and amnesia Simon ( he was named Simon by the police) was physically fit and he was sent to the council as a homeless man, they in turn sent him to us.
As you can imagine Simon had many problems, he was very emotional because he didn't know what had happened to him. But we had to work with him firstly on his immediate needs, he had no accommodation, he had no money, he had no food and no way of getting any of these things. Again a kindly Private landlord took him in, and we sorted his benefits and some clothing etc for him. I worked with Simon every day trying to help him to look in the right places to find the answers he really needed but also to deal with the trauma he was currently going through. We put him in contact with the salvation army who can help to look for missing people relatives etc, and they put an advert in the papers to try to find somebody who might know Simon who he was and what had happened to him. Some weeks later the salvation army had contact from a woman who said she was Simons aunt.
To cut a long story short it turned out that Simon and his wife and daughter had been caught in the horrific forest fires in California a few months prior to him turning up with us, he had very sadly lost his wife and daughter, they could only assume that after that he had wandered around in a state of despair and distress, his mind had completely wiped it from his memory and he had headed for the one place he remembered (from childhood)which was Essex, he had flown into Stansted and there he had either been mugged or had a fall before being found by police and subsequently brought to us. He did return home to face what he had left behind and sent us several postcards over the following months letting us know how he was getting on.
Finally meet Mr G, he came to us when he got out of rehab, he was no longer drinking but was very fearful of going back to it if he had to stay on the streets, he was waiting for the second part of his rehab but this didn't start for 6 weeks. We tried desperately to get him into accommodation, shared housing, hostel, anything as he was so desperate but we couldn't find anything for him at all. He's family were in France but he refused to go back there until he had completed his rehab and knew he could return to them sober. We begged the council, we pleaded with the health service to admit him earlier for his second stage of rehab but every way we turned we hit a brick wall.Mr G came in daily for tea and a chat whilst we fought for him and then one day he didn't come in, he had died during the night in the bus shelter in the town centre!
These are just a few of the faces of homeless people, this Governments policies are set to put huge numbers of such people out there, well let me tell you not one person I met in my 9 years working with them was deserving of the life they found themselves living. They are not numbers, they are people and there for the grace of God go you or I.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Angie said...

Dearest Penny, Another fabulous piece, thank you x I do a little volunteering with the homeless, each one of them somebodys son, daughter, brother, father x Life can take a bad turning and its all of our responsibility to show some compassion and a little of Gods love x

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post, Penny. Thank you for writing it and sharing your experiences of working with homeless people.

tinysuz said...

Thank you for posting that Penny. As usual very well written and thought provoking. A reminder that the homeless are people with thoughts and feelings that have fallen on hard times through no fult of their own

Sarah Arrow said...

Lovely post Penny, thank you for sharing about your experiences with homelessness. If you fancy writing a guest post for us over at Birds on The Blog just let me know, we'd love to share you with a wider audience/

stu_art_ist said...

Last night I joked with you! I joked that I hoped this new 'POINTS' was not as frightening as your last one about things that SCARE YOU... how wrong was I !! These guys were so lucky to have you and we are lucky to have you to share their stories x