Meet a guest: Sophie
I’m 28 years old and I was born in Bucharest, Romania. I’m from a very unusual background, my mother is an artist and the daughter of a postman and my father was the son of a politician in the Ceausescu government. They separated when I was 6 and I went to live with my mum in Transylvania. I was sad about the split, but we were alright. I only saw my dad a couple of times and he died in 2012. I did OK at school, got decent grades and trained as a nurse. Because of the economic climate in Romania, I couldn’t find any work as a nurse, so in 2012 I came to the UK. Within a week I found a job as a care assistant in Hampshire. After a couple of months, I moved to another post in an old people’s home in Burnham-on-Sea. I was looking after residents in the last stages of dementia. The work was very challenging but I was up for it – I loved my job and my manager knew that when I was on shift, the residents will smile. I was there two and a half years. I had nice accommodation with an en-suite and I was appreciated by my employer, which was nice. The money wasn’t great, £7 per hour and my rent was deducted from my wages, but I lived OK and I didn’t feel hard up. I worked such long hours, 60-70 a week, that I earned quite a bit of money. I used all my holidays to travel. I visited Paris, France, Belgium, twice to Finland and went home to Transylvania every year.
It was on a visit home that I met the 2 women who were to make a turning point in my life. They were a mother and daughter. I met the daughter first in a pub 2012 we got drunk together and we became best friends. When I went home we continued our friendship on Facebook and Skype. I would send them money. In the beginning, everything was really great. In 2015, on a visit home, we decided we would all move to London together and make a life there. I gave in my notice and we started to live together in London.
Without me even noticing, they started to manipulate and control me. I was working in a bar and the daughter was working as a musician. We had a flat in Warwick Avenue which we shared the rent for. They would tell me that my real family didn’t care for me and that they were my true family – only they cared for me and I must choose between them and my birth family. They were isolating me from everyone. At the end of November 2015 we were in a bad situation – we couldn’t pay our rent and our letting agent told us you could survive in London by begging. They’d already pressured me into taking food from my work – it had caused me problems with my manager, it became very stressful and I lost my job. So, I started begging. Initially it was for tiny amounts of money – I’d ask people around Edgware Road for change. I’d stay out 2 or 3 hours and get about £20. They didn’t do that, just me – they were too proud! In the end we were evicted – we just couldn’t make the rent. We got another place in Leyton, but only for a month.
I was so unhappy, at the time they weren’t physically violent, but somehow they managed to make me go out to beg to get all the rent money. I guess I now understand that this is manipulation and control – at the time, I just thought I was helping my family – they were my family now!
We moved to Green Lanes, Haringey. The plan was to get the money for a car – my ‘family members’ didn’t like taking public transport. At the time it seemed like a reasonable idea. They had contacts in an hotel where they said they’d get me a job and I couldn’t wait to get working. But, the job never materialised and I was still begging. As the weather improved, people weren’t as generous and I didn’t always make the money they wanted me to. They’d already slapped me and kicked me, but in May they told me that if I didn’t bring a certain amount of money at a certain time, they would make me sleep outside. I never managed to get the money in time – I was always late and I would sleep out in an Arcade close to the house. I still gave them the money, they were my family and I loved them. We spoke on Facebook and they kept promising that they’ll get me a job. I gave them maybe £100 a day, I would put the money through the window. As long as I gave them money, it was all OK and I wasn’t bothered.
We had to move again and I was called in to help. We moved to Oakwood near Cockfosters and it was more of the same. It was now September and they were still promising me everything. Because I was beginning to make my own decisions they said I was being disloyal and said I didn’t care about ‘my family’. I wrote on Facebook one night that I’d had enough and I was leaving. They called me home, (pretending they hadn’t read my message), when I got there she slapped me and kicked me in the groin and leg wearing football boots. She threw me on the floor and kicked me some more. I was left with bruises all over. I was still sleeping rough and giving them money.
The final beating was because she didn’t like something I’d written on Facebook – it was nothing, totally inoffensive, but she took against me because of it. This time it was different – I tried to defend myself and she didn’t like that! I just left. It was the beginning of November, I spent a few nights in a hostel and someone told me about Women at the Well. They were great and referred me to Shelter from the Storm. One of the W@TW caseworkers went with me to our house to collect some belongings. The mother was there and she slapped me in front of the worker. We’d already told the police where we were going and that it was a potentially violent situation and they came almost immediately when we called them. I managed to get some clothes and most of my documents, but not all – I think they deliberately destroyed some of them. Then I came to the shelter.
Now I just want to get my own place and a job. I’ve had a couple of interviews and I’ve got a trial shift as a kitchen porter – I’m hopeful. I really like it at the shelter and the food is very good. I love the clothes store, it’s my favourite place, I found a beautiful shirt and some really nice boots today. Life is better and at last l feel safe.