It’s almost 4 years since we helped ex-serviceman Darren access residential support for his substance misuse issues. After years of rough sleeping, he first stayed with us in Christmas 2011 and we now feel he’s part of our SFTS family. Darren visits regularly and volunteers when he can. He is proud to say he’s still sober and living safely and independently in the community – he continues to re-establish a happy relationship with his mum and stepfather. We are so proud and honoured to have played a small part in Darren’s journey of recovery
‘Homelessness is not just for Christmas’
If you’d like to help us help more people like Darren just text:
SFTS01 to 70070 followed by £2, £5 or £10
or go to: http://sfts.org.uk/donations/
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.
I’m 60 years old and I was born in Mullingar, outside of Dublin, Southern Ireland. It was a typical Irish Catholic family, there were originally 4 boys and 4 girls, but a brother died before I was born. I was sent to a diocesan seminary to study for the priesthood – I lasted 3 years. I hated every minute of it, it was hell, so abusive and as you can see I didn’t become a priest – their loss! At 15 they threw me out. I had a 22 year old brother who was a barman in Ballard’s Lane, Finchley. It went from the sublime to the ridiculous, I’d hardly had a single drink at home and I was suddenly drinking as much as I liked for free in London. It was the start of my long and dysfunctional relationship with alcohol – the seeds were sown. I was ‘living it large’, a kid alone in London, going to all the concerts, drinking and smoking hash – I had a great time.
I went home for a bit to resit my O’levels and at 18 I returned to London and started work in construction as a pipe fitter and railway worker, mostly in Camden and Islington. We weren’t given any training and the work was really dangerous – I worked alongside a guy who was decapitated on the job, we had to haul his body out of the trench we were digging. It was job to pub – pub to job; that’s the heavy drinking cycle we were all in. Sometimes I worked on “the Lump” and sometimes I’d have a contract. I didn’t see the inside of a dole queue for 15 years.
In 1981 I returned to Ireland. I was labouring during the day and Roadying for bands at night. That’s when I first came in to contact with class A drugs. We did speedballs, which are a mix of Cocaine and Amphetamine Sulphate. This was during my late 20’s till I was 36.
On 3 March 1993 I stopped using everything, drink and drugs. I had returned to London and was living in a bedsit in Forest Hill, by this time I had developed a considerable habit but I just went cold turkey. It was a matter of maths, I’d spent nearly half my life completely sober the next half totally smashed – the sums didn’t add up – if I hadn’t stopped then, I’d have died. My life had become pretty chaotic, I was getting into fights, appearing in court (only minor charges, never jaile). I asked my GP for help but he refused, so I just did it on my own. I was in a really frightening place, it was days before I could even leave my room, I could hardly walk and my thoughts were like a skipping CD.
I spent a lot of time with my friends squatting in Islington. They were all still using. Most of them died in their 30’s. The one line I never crossed was to use drugs intravenously. The people I know who did are all dead now.
I met a woman who had also stopped using and to begin with it was great. She had teenage kids who I got on well with. We lasted 7 years but it was a co-dependant relationship so there were problems. In 1998 we went on holiday to Ireland and the ‘Celtic Tiger’ was in full swing. There was loads of work and I wanted to stay but she didn’t, so we split. I got a great job as a Council gardener.
My brother died in 2000 and I started drinking again. I’m a binge drinker and the trigger always seems to be either my own depression (which I’ve suffered all my life) or a funeral. I started using cocaine again as well as the drink and mdma – my sessions would last as long as my money did.
In 2004 I came back to London and was mostly sober apart from the odd binge. They’d usually last about 10 days. I first came to Shelter from the Storm in 2007 when they were at St James’s Church Hall. I was living on the streets but I used to come for a bit of dinner and a shower. I stayed with SFTS when they moved to Elmore Street.
People don’t realise that it’s ten times easier to be drunk and homeless than sober and homeless. There’s a camaraderie with the drink and it seems to keep out the cold – it makes the day move along easier. It is difficult to stay straight when you don’t have a home. You have to stay away from your old haunts or you WILL relapse, no two ways about it. I was told twice that my liver was shot, the second time I believed them! Miraculously I don’t have Cirrhosis but it did kill my brother and my aunt.
When I was sleeping rough, a couple of us used to sneak in to Highbury Swimming Pool at night. We tried to get out before the staff arrived but if we didn’t manage, the attendants would often bring us a cup of tea. We did that for quite a while but the woman I did it with is dead now. You could find empty buildings to squat in then, we squatted the Tramshed at Highbury Corner for 18 months, we even had a couple of ‘Raves’ which made us quite a bit of money.
From September 2012 until a month ago I had a flat in Islington. The landlord evicted me because he wanted to re-develop the place. He was refused planning but the order had already gone through and I found myself, at the age of 60, on the streets again and back at SFTS!
I’m pretty easy to read, if you see me with a can in my hand things are bad – if you don’t, I’m probably doing fine. At the moment I’m feeling OK but that can change. I’m hopeful that I’ll be housed soon; people are trying to help me. I’m working part time as a cleaner in Islington and I’ve started writing my book. It’s part novel, part autobiography about the abuse of my catholic childhood. It’s depressing but also quite cathartic – saves me forking out for a therapist!
To coincide with World Homeless Day (Monday 10 October, 2016), we’re launching our podcasts documenting the complex, emotionally compelling and often surprising stories of those who pass through our doors.
Each story – told unflinchingly in the words of the guests themselves – is about more than just the experience of homelessness. It’s about the often tragic but rarely uncommon circumstances that lead to it.
In the first episode we meet Lina, the 28-year-old granddaughter of a Guinean King who has spent a lifetime fleeing female genital mutilation. It’s a story about brutality, women’s rights, education, loneliness, and finally hope: a tale about finding your voice against all odds. As with many of these stories, they’re all issues that are closer to home than we like to think.
Warning – some listeners may find the issues covered distressing
The ‘Shelter from the Storm’ podcast was created by Black Sheep Studios, the award-winning in-house production arm of BBH London.
The ‘Shelter from the Storm’ podcast was created by Black Sheep Studios, the award-winning in-house production arm of BBH London.
I was born in Ballinaugh in County Cavan Eire – a small rural village with a post office, a pub, a school, a police station and a church. I’m 52 and I’ve got 7 brothers and 5 sisters. I’m the youngest boy but I’ve 2 younger sisters. I left school at 15 and started work – my dad always chose the work I did and my first job was selling clothes in a street market 6 or 7 days a week – I earned £25 a week which I gave to my dad. My mum and dad separated when I was little but they didn’t divorce – we don’t do divorce in Ireland. Mum left and we all lived with Dad. My dad deserves a medal – another man would have put us in care, but he just got on with it. All my brothers and sisters worked and we all did our bit to support each other. We didn’t own our house so we needed to find the rent etc. I worked at all sorts of jobs – Cavan Crystal, pubs, hotels, kitchen porter. At 17 I joined the Irish Army, I was a Gunner, a 3-star Private. I loved being in the Army – the best job ever but I had to leave at 22 for medical reasons.
I came to London to Canning Town and I’ve been on the road ever since. Sometimes sleeping rough, sometimes I’d find work and get a room. If you’re homeless and stay in the same place too long, the police will pull you over and question you – they’re allowed to – they always give some reason – you look suspicious or whatever. I worked as a fork lift truck driver at M & J Timber merchants in Canning Town and as a security guard at Ford in Dagenham for four and a half years.
In 1997 I lived in a Franciscan Monastery in Plaistow. I was a drinker then and the monks would look after me – pick me up out of the gutter. They gave me work to do. I was so happy there, life was simple. I helped with gardening, shopping, cleaning windows for people. I left in about 2001, it felt like it was time to move on – to take responsibility for myself again. I got myself a room above a launderette in Mare Street but the other people in the house weren’t my kind of people so I left after 7 months. More moving around followed – a few months here, a few months there – a bit of work, a bit of job seekers – nothing for very long.
On 10th December 2012 I went to Suriname in South America. It was supposed to be a lovely holiday visiting a friend. I had a great time, then it all went downhill. My flight back was February 13th 2013 and I was arrested at the airport. I was set up, someone planted cocaine in my baggage. I was jailed for 15 months. I can see now what a fool I was- an easy target. Prison in Suriname was pure hell! I suffered a lot of discrimination because I was white. I didn’t speak the language – they speak Dutch and a kind of Creole. I didn’t have anyone – my family weren’t allowed to send anything. The Dutch Embassy gave me a tiny bit of money each month for soap and stuff. It was just awful and at times I could barely cope.
I was released from prison in 2014 and lived on the streets of Suriname for 2 years working at anything I could find and surviving in any way I could. One of my brothers managed to contact me and paid for my fare back to London – that was in March 2016. All this last year I was rough sleeping in Tottenham. I contacted the local MP David Lammy and he referred me to Shelter from the Storm.
I’m moving into my own place soon, in Canning Town of course! It’s nice here at the shelter – Cookie has been a diamond, so supportive. Everyone has been so kind and supportive, I’ll miss them. I still do volunteer work and when I’ve left I’d like to come back to the shelter to volunteer here, to help other homeless people.
People think my life has been hard but I don’t see it that way. We all have difficulties but we can’t give in to them, we need to face them full on and fight them. Every day is a new beginning and I’m looking forward to the future. It can only get better – I’ve been through hell already!
In Poland I had my own business, I was a make up artist for photographers and film & TV. Business wasn’t doing too good so we decide to try our luck in England.
To begin with I did OK and I lived and worked in London with my young son for six years. When he was 12, we went back to Poland while we waited for my permanent residency papers. Even though he had been doing really well at school in London, we decided he should stay in Poland to complete his secondary education. He’s living with my mum, which is sad for me, but he’s achieving great grades.
I came back on my own and in May this year I had a big problem with my landlord – I was working freelance and asked if I could pay my rent in instalments. To begin with this was ok, but then he said he wasn’t happy and gave me a day’s notice to leave. I came back from work to find the locks had been changed. I went to the Council who told me to go to the Citizens Advice – the Citizens Advice told me to call Shelter UK – Shelter UK told me to go back to the Council. The Council called my landlord and said he needed to give me 4 weeks notice. My landlord let me back in, but only let me stay for a week. During that week I phoned and emailed everyone I could think of and finally got a referral to SFTS – it was pure luck that they had a space! The whole experience was just awful – one of the most stressful times of my life.
When I came to the shelter, everyone was just so kind and welcoming and nice. I couldn’t find the place, so one of the volunteers came out into the street to find me. I still had a bit of freelance work but that dried up. When the agency I worked for found out I was homeless, they just dumped me. I’d been a good employee for this agency but they didn’t care – I guess they thought homelessness wasn’t good for their image! When Cookie heard I’d lost my job, she helped me get a place on the Prêt a Manger Apprenticeship scheme. I’ve been working full time nearly 2 months. I really love it. I like my manager and team – they come from all over the world and I feel truly at home.
Because I live rent-free at the shelter and they provide all my food, I’ve managed to save up for a rent deposit. I’m just dreaming of being able to get my own place and having my son to visit me. I will always remember the shelter with such affection – they were there for me when I needed it – when I was at my lowest. I was so frightened and I didn’t expect to get this sort of help.
I’m just so grateful to everyone here and I’ve made lots of friends. One day I’d like to come back and volunteer to help other homeless people.
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I was released from prison on 14 August 2016 with £46 in my pocket. I bought a packet of fags and a bus pass and the money was gone. I slept in Finsbury Park, Old Street subway, on the busses, I found an unlocked garage on an estate that did me for a bit. I got moved on by the Old Bill a few times. My broken relationships with my family meant that I’d burnt all my bridges and they weren’t prepared to have me back. I’d managed to keep myself clean inside, but it was a daily battle staying straight while I was rough-sleeping. I’d bump into people I’d known back in the day who offered me gear; trust me it was really hard to say no…but I did.
I was born in 1965 in Violet Road Stepney – within the sound of Bow bells – proper cockney. When I was 5 me, mum, dad and nan sold our house and moved to Tottenham. I had a difficult childhood, I was hyper and mum and dad just couldn’t cope. Dad used to beat me. When I was 8 they sent me to Bylands, a council funded boarding school in Basingstoke. I left at 11 and tried moving back home, but it just didn’t work out. I was put in a variety of children’s homes and assessment centres. I kept running away so they put me in a secure unit in Redhill. None of it worked. At 14 I started getting into trouble and ended up in a detention centre – at 15 I done a Borstal and came out at 16 and a half. I was mixing with all the wrong people but they were the only people I knew. I was doing armed robberies, security vans. So, for 2 or 3 years I was living what they call the high life – drinking, clubbing, flashy cars holidays – Then…I got caught and sent down for 10 years, I’d just turned 22. I was disruptive, wouldn’t toe the line, I guess I was bitter and twisted and angry. They kept moving me around prisons all over England and I lost nearly all my remission. I had just turned 30 when I eventually got out.
I settled down, got married, got a job as a van driver had a couple of kids, a boy and a girl. I was still living in Tottenham and managed to stay out of trouble for 10 years. Then, when I was going through a bit of a bad patch I did something really stupid. I went out and robbed a drug dealer and I got caught. I got 3 years. I behaved myself this time, I guess I’d at least learned something and I only did 18 months. On release I settled down and got another job.
In 2010 I turned 45 and that’s when my life fell apart around me. I was working hard and I didn’t see it coming. We must’ve grown apart but I hadn’t really realised and my wife kicked me out. The drug dealing people I’d known all my life were still all around me. Whereas before, although I’d smoke a bit of cannabis, I’d always refused offers of hard drugs, now I was in this rotten place, alone without my family and I just though what the heck, why not? To be honest, it took the pain away. At first it was free, but then of course I had to start paying! I was using whatever I could get – Crack and Heroin mostly.
The last 6 years have been a constant hellish battle. I’ve been sofa surfing, rough sleeping but always using. My children disowned me because of my drug taking. I’d always told them not to use drugs and here I was – a junkie!
In the last 6 years I’ve done 2 more prison sentences, a 4-year stretch (I did 2) and the last one a 12 month of which I served 6 months. I cleaned up in prison this last time and became a peer mentor for other cons with drug problems. I think I’m good at helping other people with drug issues because I’ve been there – I understand what they’re going through. I really surprised myself how much I enjoyed helping others.
An SFTS volunteer has arranged for me to become a ‘Street Buddy’ with an outreach team trying to connect with hard to reach substance misusers on the street. I’m really looking forward to it!
SFTS have helped me access shared accommodation in Tottenham and I’ll be moving in soon. I feel very sad about what a mess I seem to have made of things but in the last few weeks I’ve started making contact with my kids. Things are certainly looking a bit better and Shelter from the Storm has definitely helped me move on up!
My Experience with Shelter from the Storm was unexpectedly great! I never thought that being homeless we could have such a welcome from the overall team, particularly when one was so down and disappointed about the outcome of housing issues.
Let’s start with the most obvious! Food at the shelter is a delicious meal and a delicious breakfast. Even on Sunday, ordering a breakfast (on Sundays full English Breakfast) is like in a restaurant.
Hygiene is very good, as when we arrive in the evening we get a clean place with roses on the tables to chill from the long day spent out.
Communication is always jovial with the team which we pass on to each other among the homeless. Homelessness is not what any of us expected and we respected each other’s privacy even sometimes when it’s difficult to do. If in the future I became rich, I would myself give to Shelter from the Storm, because I could see for myself where my money would go and just what a good charity group can achieve!
Best to all
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.