I was born in Upper Holloway, Islington in 1981. I went to school at St Joseph’s Highgate and then on to St Aloysius College Highgate. My dad died when I was little and me and my brother were brought up by our mother. I did OK at school. As a teenager, I got acting parts in London’s Burning and Grange Hill and I did the first year of A levels. I left at 17 to do a 5-year apprenticeship as an electrician. I met my partner at 22 and bought a flat in Archway. We lived pretty happily together and in 2008 we had a baby girl. In 2011 my mother passed away and that’s when things started going wrong. I’d used cocaine occasionally, but what had been a social thing became a problem. I was working hard, earning good money but I started missing days at work and losing interest in my career. I became distanced from my family and friends and became a bit of a recluse. My behaviour took its toll on our relationship and me and my partner split in 2013. I’d become a different person – horrible – irrational, selfish and not nice to be around. I still managed to work, just about. I was staying in cheap B & Bs around Finsbury Park but my wages wouldn’t stretch. My cocaine use began to spiral and I needed money to pay for my habit. I started stealing from work, bits and pieces of cable, to supplement my wages. I was spending £100 a day on cocaine and £50 a night on B&B; I was chasing money wherever I could find it. Amazingly, I was still managing to work 6 days a week to keep this lifestyle going until December 2015 when I got caught stealing and lost my job. That was a massive wake up call. I didn’t understand how I’d become this person, someone I didn’t recognize and didn’t particularly like. I’d been spending about £50 a day on cocaine but I just stopped using there and then. People find that difficult to believe, but that’s just what I did. In some ways it was quite easy to break the habit – I’d lost my job, I was homeless and I’d got no money.
I slept in an abandoned garage in Archway; sadly I’d lost all contact with my daughter and her mum over a year before because my behaviour had become so difficult and unpredictable. The garage had no roof, I used a bit of old carpet to make a roof and it was freezing! I managed to keep myself looking OK. I used the showers in a gym where I’d been a member and there were a few soup kitchens in churches around the Holloway Road where I got food; I didn’t find any Day Centres. Eventually I got a place in a Churches Winter Shelter scheme where you go to a different church every night. My 28 days with them came to an end and somehow I got really lucky and was accepted by SFTS; I didn’t even spend one more night on the streets.
I started applying for jobs as soon as I got here and I’m starting work next week. I was really surprised when the staff at SFTS said that as long as I kept working and saving for a deposit, they’d let me stay at the shelter and do their best to help me find somewhere decent to move on to; I’m determined to do this. I’m still clean of drugs and my aim is to stay that way, build a relationship with my daughter and put the madness of the last few years behind me.
I was born in Sudan and came here to live with my father in 2009. My father was a pilot but he had to leave Sudan and come to live in the UK in 2002. We used to live in our house in Shepherds Bush but my dad fell behind with the mortgage payments and we lost our home. I moved in with my brother for a few months but the landlord found out and asked for more money because he said I used the shower. It was a tiny room and I just slept on the floor. My brother was already paying £150 a week and they wanted another £30. We just couldn’t afford the extra, so I had to leave. I slept on the streets for a week – it was the most frightening thing. I was in the Shepherds Bush and Edgware Road areas. When people would try to give me money, I used to cry – I thought I’m not a beggar – I just used to hide my face – I was so ashamed to be in that situation. I couldn’t stay with my dad because he has a big problem with drink. When he’s drunk he says bad stuff and I didn’t want to end up hating him.
One day someone showed me a day-centre in Edgware Road and they managed to get me in to Shelter from the Storm. Being at the shelter means I’ve been able to continue my studies and in the future I want to go to Uni and study business management like my brother. I’ve had just the best experience at the shelter – I’ve made so many friends, my English has really improved and I’ve become a pro at snooker! I’m really going to miss the guests and volunteers; they’ve all helped me so much. Once I’m settled in my new place I want to come back to the shelter as a volunteer so I can help other homeless people.
Warning: This story contains descriptions of female genital mutilation, which you may find very distressing.
At Shelter from the Storm we never shy away from the difficult cases. We found this guest a lawyer who is an internationally recognised expert in fgm and forced marriage. Our guest worked with our in-house counsellor and receives support from a network of other specialist services. She has now left the shelter and is in a place of safety. Help us help more people like her, go to: https://www.justgiving.com/sfts/donate/
I’m 27 years old, my family is educated and my parents are middle class graduates. I’d been living in the UK studying for my masters when I decided to go home for a holiday. I stopped off in Amsterdam and spoke to my cousin on Skype. I was horrified when he told me all the preparations had been made for my wedding. My engagement had been announced to an old man more than 30 years my senior. He already had 2 wives and grown up kids. Both families were expecting me to return and undergo female genital mutilation before the marriage. In my country all women must be cut; if you’re not, you’re not an accepted member of society. Where I come from they cut everything, the clitoris, the outer lips and the inner lips but they don’t sew you up. The procedure takes about 3 days. The women of the village take you to the forest and hold you down, one woman for each arm and leg. The old woman of the village then cuts away all your vagina and clitoris. In my dialect it is called “boinw”. There’s no anaesthetic, no painkillers, nothing. The old woman has no training; she uses the same knife on all the girls just giving it a wipe on a bit of rag between cutting. There’s no medical help so it’s not uncommon for women to bleed to death. There’s a big chance of contracting HIV and the percentage of women suffering life long urinary tract infections is huge.
Since I was small my dad had always protected me. He sent me away to live and study all over Africa because he couldn’t bear to have met cut. But, I guess the pressure on the family just got too great and he gave in. At the beginning of last year they went ahead and had my traditional marriage and ceremony even though I wasn’t there. Then they demanded I come back and do “the decent thing”, become a “proper woman” and stop bringing shame on the family. I’ve stopped all communication, all social media, all contact. My mother has been cast out from the family because they blame her for my behaviour. I’m frightened for them but I can’t get in touch – it makes me so sad. I miss them terribly but I’m not going to let them mutilate me; I’d rather die. If they catch me and cut me, I will kill myself.
When I feel safer, I’m determined to help other women and stop them being cut. This practice has to end and the world needs to know the terrible things that are still happening every day to their sisters.
Some details have been changed to protect the identity of our guest and ensure her safety.
My dad is British from Birmingham and my mum is Brazilian. I was brought up in São Paulo by my grandmother. When I was 13 I came to London to live with my parents. I left school at 17 and I was living with my mum and her boyfriend. I got in with a really bad crowd and started using all sorts of street drugs, all the time – crystal meth, ketamine, DMT, mushrooms, LSD, alcohol, cocaine – you name it, I took it. I never tried heroin or crack; for some reason I was more worried about them being addictive. I was living an unbelievably crazy life; on my 19th birthday, I came home from a rave and I caught sight of myself in the bathroom mirror. It was like I was staring at a stranger, I didn’t recognize the person looking back at me and I was shocked. I thought of my grandmother in Brazil who’d brought me up and how she’d be horrified at the person I’d become. I don’t think she’d have let me back into her home. It was a big wake up call. I decided there and then to stop using drugs. It wasn’t easy. I just didn’t know what to do with myself if I wasn’t taking drugs; that’s all I’d done for the last couple of years – I was lost without them.
It was at this time that I came out to my parents as bisexual. They were horrified. My mum thought I was joking, but when she realized it wasn’t a joke, I’ve never seen her so angry. How could her son, the son of a good Catholic family, be like this – she just couldn’t cope with my sexuality. We started arguing about every little thing till after a week I had a big fight with my mum’s boyfriend. We really hurt each other – he broke my nose and I punched him so hard I cut my hands. After that they kicked me out and mum told me never to set foot in her house again. I managed to sofa-surf for a week but then I hit the streets. I slept on buses, at railway stations, if I couldn’t find somewhere safe, I’d just walk around all night. It was freezing, it was exhausting, it was frightening. One morning I saw this sign for New Horizon Youth Centre and I just walked in, it was a pure fluke! New Horizon referred me to Shelter from the Storm and amazingly they had a space.
The 3 months I was homeless felt like a lifetime, the nights lasted forever and I was always worried that someone might really harm me. Everyone and everything I knew was in a different part of London and anyway, I wanted to keep away from drugs and the violent life I had been living.
My first night at the shelter I felt this huge relief – It was warm and welcoming and the food was amazing even if you hadn’t been living off scraps! After a few days, Cookie asked me if I wanted a job – I didn’t think twice. She arranged an interview and the shelter bought me some nice new clothes to go in. I got the job! It’s the first proper job I’ve had and I love it! My managers are really kind and supportive and I get on well with my co-workers. I want to save up to visit Birmingham; it feels like I have roots there and I need to see it. I’m so much happier in myself now – sometimes I get down and I miss my family, but it’s OK. I’m working, I’m confident about who I am and I’m never going back to that dark place again.
I was born in 1945 in Plaistow in the East End of London. I left school at 15 and went to work in the rag trade. I was a tailor and cutter and I worked in factories all over the East End finishing up at Bermans the famous theatrical costumiers in Drury Lane. The industry collapsed and in 1982 I was offered an exciting opportunity to go to South Africa and set up a factory manufacturing uniforms. After a few years I got the chance to go to Botswana and develop a garment industry to employ disadvantaged Motswana women. Some of them were teenage mothers, some were ex sex workers, but they all wanted to learn skills and work towards a better future. I ended up developing 4 factories, I didn’t earn much money, but I loved my work and it was very fulfilling imparting a lifetime of skill and knowledge to the trainees. I married a local lady and we had a daughter and a lovely home. Life was good. A few years ago Chinese factories started operating in Botswana and the bottom fell out of the market. The economy turned pretty bad and I ran out of cash. It’s no good being a man with no money in Africa, there’s no safety net and you’re really looked down on if you can’t provide for you family. In June of this year I was forced to return to the UK to look for work. My British relations just didn’t want to know and kicked me out. I was completely destitute, unable to get my pension because I’d been away so long, I ended up sleeping on Stratford station. After a couple of weeks I was picked up by some outreach workers who referred me to Shelter from the Storm. The shelter have put a roof over my head, they’ve fed me, helped me get my papers and look for work. I’m determined to find a job. I’ve worked all my life and I’m not about to give up now.
I was born and bred in South London and most of my working life was a butcher at Smithfield meat market. After 20 years my relationship broke down and I left my wife and son in the family home and went to live with my brother. We were OK together for a few years but it was difficult, he was also a butcher and a combination of his heavy drinking and the night shift work meant that things became very strained between us and I decided to leave before we came to blows. I had to leave my job at the beginning of the year. I was a Lamb Cutter, the work was very heavy and cold and the pain I suffered from a long-term injury to my leg became too much to bear. I was gutted to leave the market. I stayed for a little while with my son who sells caravans at a holiday park in Hythe but his boss said I wasn’t covered by insurance and had to leave. That’s when I started sleeping in Burgess Park over Peckham way. I was cold, I was wet and I was lonely. I found I started drinking more than I was used to just to dull the pain, warm me up and help me sleep. One night I came back to find my sleeping bag and all my things soaking and destroyed. I found it hard to ask for help, but I went to Southwark Council. The Council just didn’t want to know and sent me away. I managed to find a day centre that referred me to SFTS. When I arrived my feet were black, the colour of my shoes. They gave me some clean dry clothes and I had a shower and some food. That night, I think I probably had the best sleep of my life. I’ve just signed a tenancy agreement for a studio flat in Streatham and I’ll be moving in in a couple of days. This experience has really opened my eyes, I’ve been working since I was 15 and I guess I never believed I’d be one of those homeless people, I thought they were different but they’re not, they’re just like you and me. I’ve felt warm and cared for by the volunteers and other guests at the Shelter. Without SFTS, I’d still be on the streets.
I used to be a chef and a DJ, but when my relationship broke down I became homeless. For nearly two months I slept on a park bench in Peckham Rye. It was cold, it was lonely and the mosquitoes used to eat me alive! It was Father’s day and I was playing with my ten year old son when I got the call to say Shelter from the Storm had a bed for me. I always feel like a million dollars when I’m with my kids but I have to admit, life on the streets was very hard. I don’t think anyone who hasn’t experienced it understands how miserable and alone you can feel when you’re homeless
Since I’ve been at the shelter I’ve started a ‘Multi Task Construction’ course. I’ve learned tiling, bricklaying and plastering. I’m due to finish next week and I should get my CSCS card which will enable me to work on a building site.
I really appreciate everything the volunteers at the shelter have done for me, they’ve made me feel so welcome; like a home from home. I can’t wait to get a job, move into my own place and get my life back on track.
I knew from the age seven that I was a girl but when I told my parents they laughed it off, they just thought I was gay! At fourteen I finally made my move to transition; I just started dressing as a girl, as far as I was concerned I was a girl. I dropped out of school at twelve because of bullying and attended a referral unit, but that was even more brutal. From twelve to fourteen I was unschooled till they sent me to stay with an aunt in Margate where I had to play ‘straight’, which was soul destroying. Back then you couldn’t start testosterone blockers and oestregen treatment till you were eighteen and I was twenty-one before I could eventually start hormone therapy.
Mum and Dad have been very supportive and chilled about my identity but I have a troubled relationship one of my brothers. A few weeks ago we had a horrible fight and I was kicked out. I was street homeless for a week and it was really scary. People offered me drugs, they offered me a roof over my head in return for sex; it was terrifying!
When The Albert Kennedy Trust referred me to SFTS I was pretty anxious but as soon as I arrived I was made really welcome, everyone is relaxed and kind; I feel safe now. I don’t want to leave in the mornings because who knows what’s going to happen on the street?
The shelter is helping me look for work and accommodation and I’m trying to finish my Music and Performance course at college. I’m determined to fulfil my dream of becoming a music teacher; it may take a bit of time, but I know I’ll get there in the end.
We’d like to say a huge thank you to David Sumners who is stepping down as a trustee after four and a half amazing years. David has helped steer us through our transition to becoming one of the most highly regarded charities in our field. We wish you the very best of luck for the future.
There is no “average” homeless person; there are instead people like Iris, who happens to be homeless. Radiant with confidence and chat, Iris has experienced more at 21 than most experience in a lifetime.
Iris left a chaotic, single-parent home in her early teens and moved in with a boyfriend soon after. She fell pregnant and had a daughter, now five years old; while the birth of her daughter was a blessing, Iris’s new living situation was even more chaotic than the one she had fled. Iris feared for her safety in her own home, and was forced to leave her partner – and their daughter – when he became abusive. Years of couchsurfing and substance abuse followed, but Iris held out hope, overcame her addictions, and resolved to take control of her life.
At Shelter from the Storm, Iris has found support and regained the confidence she lost while homeless and unemployed. She is a star employee at Waitrose and hopes to be housed soon, as much for her daughter’s sake as her own; of everything she has to look forward to, Iris is most excited about being back with her daughter, building the kind of peaceful, stable home that she herself never had.