Category Archives: Guest stories

Meet a guest: João

FullSizeRenderMy 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.

Meet a guest: Michael P

IMG_0878I 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.

A visit from an ex guest: Emma’s Story


I’m from Tower Hamlets but I’d been living in Wales for 13 years. When I came back at the end of 2014, I was at rock bottom. Both my kids were living with their fathers and I was only seeing the older one. I’d been staying with a family member but they asked me to leave and I became homeless. I was so frightened!
When I came to Shelter from the Storm in November 2014, I was in a pretty poor shape. It seemed almost impossible to get out of the horrible place I’d found myself in. The Shelter looked after me and helped me apply for a place on the Pret Apprenticeship scheme. I just took to the work, I loved it; being part of a team and achieving great results. I’ve just returned from the Isle of Skye where I’ve been on a ‘Rising Star’ programme, I was one of just a handful apprentices picked to go with senior Pret staff. It was amazing! I love my job and I’m determined to get to the top.
It’s 7 months since I left the Shelter and I can’t believe how my life has changed. I’m engaged to Mickey who I met at the shelter, I’ve been promoted and had a pay rise and I’m having proper contact with my youngest.
The shelter really helped me sort myself out. It’s nearly a year since I first came to SFTS and I can’t believe how great and bright my future seems.

Meet a guest: Peter

FullSizeRenderIt all started to go wrong when my marriage broke down. I had nowhere to go so I was sleeping on the streets. My health really suffered and I started to become depressed. That’s when I began taking drugs. Things just seemed to get worse and worse. I did manage to hold on to my job though which was really important to me.

I first came to Shelter from the Storm in August 2014 after I had just broken my leg. I had a bed to rest in that was warm and there was food. I was given time for my leg to heal, I was then able to start working again. Things haven’t always gone to plan for me at the shelter, but I’m finally moving out now into my own place. I hope that everyone who is suffering from homelessness can get the same chance as I did at Shelter from the Storm. All of my gratitude goes out to all of the volunteers – thank you.

Meet a guest: John

12042689_898748313540207_1802283396962901244_nI was born in Brisbane Australia but my grandparents are British and I spent a lot of time with them here as a child. Two years ago my mum died and that really threw me. I’d always worked in customer relations or as a manager but after my bereavement I felt toally lost and work just dried up. Although all my British family had died, I remember my time with them in the UK with great fondness. I’d been happy here and decided to give it another go. I came over in February of this year, but I had no idea how expensive accommodation was or how difficult I’d find it to get work. By June I’d used up all my savings and I was destitute, sleeping out in the Strand – it was terrifying. Luckily I was picked up by outreach workers who referred me to Shelter from the Storm. Everyone at SFTS is in the same boat but I found great support from the other guests and gradually started to feel less alone. I’ve had weekly sessions with the SFTS Counsellor and she’s been amazing. This is the first time I’ve had any sort of therapy and it’s been a fantastic help. I’ve just got my own place in Lewisham and I’ve two job interviews lined up which Cookie at SFTS helped me apply and prepare for. For the first time since mum died I’m beginning to feel more positive about life.

Meet a guest: Michael

Michael_FullSizeRenderI 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.

Meet a guest: Tony

TonyI 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.



Martin’s Story

LMartin Hadleyike most of our guests, Martin’s story is one of a kind…
Born in London in the 1940s, Martin emigrated to Australia aged 16 by a Big Brother Movement organised by his local church. This is where he lived for the next 40 years, starting a family and working in various agricultural jobs.
In 2003, Martin went to Thailand where he met his second wife and thought that he had finally met his happy ever after. Then due to a tsunami, he spent two years searching for his wife’s family who were missing and also lost a cafe he was just about to open before the tsunami hit. Again, Martin worked very hard to get a job teaching English and Social Studies.
Just as he was getting back on his feet, he lost his wife to cancer. Martin later discovered that he too had cancer and had multiple tumours on his face. Having had 3 operations, Martin was told he could not return to his old job teaching due to his new “scary” appearance. Martin told us that appearance is very important in Thai culture.
Martin had a further setback when hoping to retire in Australia where his children are still living. However, according to Australian Immigration Martin was not a resident of Australia and he did not qualify for residency. Martin had no other option at this point but to return to the UK much to his children’s horror. They were very worried about him.
He came here with £900 and stayed in a cheap hostel whilst trying to sort out his pension. No country that Martin had lived in seemed to be able to support him. Martin ended up rough sleeping with 11p in his pocket before he was referred to us at Shelter From The Storm.
Martin’s been with us for a month and he has just received his pension. He is so excited to finally settle down in a house in the Lake District.
Now when asked to describe how he feels in three words: ‘Brilliant, Lucky, Excited’.
We are so happy for you Martin, and wish you all the best. Congratulations and we’ll miss you!

Meet a guest Jaidah


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.

Meet a guest Iris


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.