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.
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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’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.
It 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.
I 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.
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.