I was four years old when I witnessed the Hutus slaughtering my dad and my little brother and sister during the Genocide against the Tutsi. They used machetes. Me and mum were the only survivors. We were taken to a refugee camp but mum’s injuries were so bad they sent her to the UK for reconstructive surgery. They wouldn’t let her take me with her so I was sent to live with her sister in Tanzania. It was a typical African family, I didn’t know them at all and they were very disciplined, but my cousins were cool.
Mum applied for asylum and eventually arranged family reunion. I was ten when I came to the UK. I went to Fleet Primary in Gospel Oak, Hampstead. I only spoke Swahili and a bit of Arabic – I’d lost all my French and Kinyarwnada. I only knew how to say ‘Hello’ and ‘Manchester United’. I learned English with ESOL classes and by watching Eastenders.
It was World cup year and I begged and begged mum to buy me the England track suit, she gave in and I wore it non-stop. I was playing football on my own outside when some English kids said, “why you wearing that track suit – you’re not English”. I didn’t understand so I kept on playing. They grabbed me, beat me up and broke my nose. That was when I decided to get rid my ‘Africanness’, lose my accent – I made a conscious decision – I was eleven. I didn’t discuss it with mum, there’s a Rwandan saying, ‘Never talk about Money or Emotions’
My Camden secondary school was pretty rough with lots of gangs. I never joined a gang, I couldn’t see the point. I was angry that my father, brother and sister had been so brutally murdered, but I knew I didn’t want to use that violence against other people. I was a bit of a loner, I had friends but I didn’t have deep connections with anyone.
Mum really wanted me to go to Uni and I started at the University of Derby, but after the first year, I knew it wasn’t what I wanted. When I came home, mum had downsized and we were on top of each other and constantly arguing, so I just left. I went to the Council, but they said they wouldn’t help – I was a young healthy male – so no priority. They gave me a leaflet to New Horizon Youth Centre.
I sofa surfed for a week, but you lose your friends sofa surfing – they want to help you, but it’s difficult – no one has the space. I’d lost my passport and I was still a refugee and I was homeless. I spent the nights on the Bendy busses. There was one from Euston to Enfield, you could get on the back without paying, then get another one back into the City. I couldn’t really sleep for more than ten minutes, it was too frightened. I could use the Youth Centre during the day, then back on the streets – it was exhausting. After three months of this, the centre made a referral to Shelter from the Storm.
Without the safety net of the shelter, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I knew I had somewhere safe to stay at night with a hot dinner and that relieved me of my anxiety during the day. Without the security of the shelter, my mental health would have deteriorated. The shelter helped me get a job a Pret a Manger. I was there six months and work gave me a sense of normalcy – gave me a clear map of what I wanted to do. Living for free at the shelter also meant I could save up for a deposit. I had the opportunity to apply for an apprenticeship at the Cabinet Office and I grasped it and was successful. I moved in to my own place just before I started. I lasted nine months, but sadly no job at the end of it.
I was already a volunteer for The Running Charity and in 2015 they offered me a job as a coach and now I’m the Senior Programme Coach for London and Brighton. I feel valued, I feel safe and I have great, supportive community of co-workers. My relationship with mum is better now, I worked my way through homelessness to where I am now and I’ve gained her respect.
With my work, I try to build a foundation to help people build their own house – I guess that’s what Shelter from the Storm did for me.
The next attempt I paid 700 dollars and this time they did actually get me on a boat at Tripoli. We were 30-40 people in an open dingy with just some gas, biscuits and water. We set off in the evening about 9pm. All you see in the boat is the sky – you’re pinned in like sardines. I was scared, didn’t how long we were in the water – no horizon – just sky. Sea was rough and water came into the boat – we had to use Gerry cans to bail out. The fuel left in the cans got all over our skin and burnt us. I felt burning all over my body. Engine stopped and the Captain tried to mend it. We were petrified that he’d lose an important bit of the engine, we all froze in case we accidentally budged him – two or three times this happened. We were at sea about two days – we got lost and met some Italian fishing boats but they wouldn’t let us board – they said we were too many and we’d sink their boats. They called the Italian Coastguard. We were so tired and hungry, we fell asleep in the boat. A boat finally came, but from Tripoli. They told us they were taking us to Italy, but they tied our wrists with cable ties and took us back to Tripoli. To be honest all I could think was at least we were alive – I’d been sure I was going to die. When we got to Tripoli, they put us into prison.
When my relationship broke down I decided to come to London for a complete change. I had a good job in France as a High School English teacher and I’d also worked in Jamaica as a qualified Guidance Counsellor. I had a little savings and I didn’t think there would be much of a problem getting a job. I knew London was expensive, but shocked at how expensive! My money ran out and I was desperate. I asked someone on the street for help and amazingly, they directed me to a Day Centre who referred me to SFTS. I was so lucky that they had a bed for me. I had literally no idea what a homeless shelter was – I’d never heard of such a thing. My first impression was that it was just beautiful, there were flowers and table cloths and the people were so lovely and kind.
I started looking for work immediately, with my background and experience I wasn’t too worried about finding something. I had a feeling that I wanted to reconnect with my Jamaican heritage. I went for an interview at a Caribbean restaurant and it went really well, my French was really useful to them with their other staff and the owner offered me the job to start immediately. Later the woman called to say her husband “didn’t like how I looked”, he said I was too “masculine” and that she was withdrawing her offer. I was truly hurt, it knocked me back and shook my confidence. Cookie, the shelter Project Worker, offered to help me. She told me about a training programme with a Hospitality group they had a partnership with. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I was curious to find out more. I met with the team who were just lovely. I was accepted to start working as a Receptionist while studying for a year-long, internationally recognised qualification. Everyone at the hotel has been so great and supportive. I was living at the shelter and that was like a home to me so if I had a blip or felt low there were friends and staff to help me and buck me up.
I’m so happy to be back at work after Lockdown. I love engaging with the clients and making sure they’re happy and have everything they need. I’ve just moved into my own place and I’m really looking forward to having my teenage daughter over from France to visit.
One year on and I’ve been through some tough times, but everyone at Shelter from the Storm has really helped me get through it all and the future looks so much brighter.
My name is Dominic but please call me Dom. My childhood memories are full of happiness, my adult memories are also filled with happiness but at times there are big splashes of sadness dropped in. You see this time two years ago I was living on the streets.
In 2006, my marriage fell apart, a physical illness returned and my mental health deteriorated. My brothers came and took me back to the family home in Wales. After a year I felt I’d become a burden to my Mum and family as they witnessed me struggling with my mental and physical health, so I packed a bag and left. I still regret doing that as I didn’t see my family again for many years.
I was no longer married to a wonderful woman who I’d totally adored and loved for 16 years, I was no longer a father to our two beautiful daughters and I was no longer sharing my life with them. I was no longer working in a career that I felt very lucky to have and be passionate about. For 11 years I continued to struggle with my health, my thoughts and feelings about my family, my daughters and even about myself. I sofa surfed, spent days in libraries, slept on night buses or in parks, showered in the changing rooms of public swimming pools.
28th June 2018 is the date when things started to change for me when I arrived at SFTS. My first night at the Shelter was unsettling, I wasn’t used to a bed, eating a cooked meal, having conversations with others. Right away the volunteers helped me feel at ease, they listened to you, made time to help you, took notice of you, talked to you, not due to you being homeless, but because you were a person. If there is one thing that makes a big difference to someone’s feelings inside, it’s being treated like a person again after months of feeling ignored. I started weekly counselling sessions with Charlotte – another part of a great support network provided by SFTS.
After a few days of settling in, Cookie started to help me apply for benefits, search for accommodation and update my C.V. By August 2018 I had regained my confidence, my purpose, my self-esteem. I always felt encouraged by everybody at SFTS to push myself, not to just sit back, but to grab parts of my past life again, the ones that made me happy.
With the continued help and support of SFTS I found a place of my own in North London to move into. My last night at the shelter coincided with the hearing that decided on granting the planning permission so SFTS could move to its new home. Volunteers, supporters and guests all gathered at Islington Town Hall, wearing SFTS t – shirts, for the hearing where all parties were heard including guests. It was takeaway Pizza for the celebrations after, which in a way was also my leaving party.
I continued to receive support from SFTS as I settled into my new home. I would go back for meals and counselling, volunteers would always give encouragement and show interest in my on-going plans. I started volunteering at Union Chapel in Islington for music events – SFTS had suggested that due to my background it would be perfect place for a music freak like me to get involved.
Fast forward to February 2020. I’ve started a sound engineering course. I’ve been travelling all over the UK on tour buses helping out at festivals and gigs. I’ve been in studios with bands and artists listening to them create new music. I’ve reconnected with old music friends from my days at Virgin Megastores. I’ve redecorated my home and landscaped the garden. I’ve written letters to my daughters and they’ve replied back to my Mum. I’m back in contact with my family, my siblings, all my nieces & nephews. I’ve been a male model on photoshoots, I’ve been an extra on film sets and tv shows. I’ve done Santa duties at hospitals and a children’s home. I’ve continued to be a volunteer at SFTS, something that I want to always do.
I genuinely feel if it wasn’t for SFTS taking me in on 28th June 2018, I wouldn’t have done or been a part of any of the aforementioned. I feel very lucky and grateful to have the life I have now. SFTS have helped many people like me, reconnect their lives and reconnect with their families.
My beautiful Dad told me many moons ago, that you can always find a positive out of a negative. With the way things are in the world right now, his words are even more poignant.
Be safe, be kind, keep smiling.
I ended up sleeping on the street because I had a disagreement with my uncle. I realized I was actually homeless – I barely had enough to eat – it was a very harsh situation. I met a friend who told me about a youth centre where I could get help and luckily, they referred me to Shelter from the Storm. SFTS helped me get a proper job with a great hotel chain and they’re training me to be an engineer. I’m doing ESOL lessons at the shelter and things are really looking up. I’m looking forward to getting my own place and I’m so grateful to the shelter for helping me get from a really bad place to where I am now. Serge
I came to the UK in 1970. My parents were already living and working here, they’d left me to be brought up by my Grandma in Nigeria. I was eight. I lived with my uncle in St Albans and I looked after his three children aged four, five and six even though I was only a child myself. I was supposed to be home schooled, but that didn’t happen. At 16, I ran away and my education really started. I worked during the day and studied at night finally achieving a Masters in Economics from Lancaster University.
I was living with my girlfriend in her father’s flat in Grosvenor Square when we got burgled. They took all my tools for my work as a plumber and all my ID – my passport, driving licence and my CSCS card. When my girlfriend returned to her family in Russia I stayed in a backpacker hostel. After four months when my work and savings dried up, I slept in the doorway of 40 Grosvenor Square. I was there for 6 months till I was picked up by outreach workers who took me to a hub in Lewisham, but you had to sleep on the floor with strangers and I didn’t feel safe so I returned to Grosvenor Square. After a couple of months, a private security firm drove us all out of the Square and I moved to a car park on Vauxhall Bridge Road – I spent 4 months there till I was picked up St Mungo’s who placed me in a hostel in Maida Vale. This is when I got caught up in the Windrush Scandal and my nightmare began, my stolen passport was stamped with my Indefinite Leave to Remain and the Home Office had no records proving my status. Without my papers and right to benefits, I couldn’t stay in the hostel and they asked me to leave. I went back to my car park till I was finally referred to Shelter from the Storm in November 2017. All this time I’ve been trying to sort out my status.
I don’t understand why people like me have been subjected to this treatment – I’ve been made to feel I don’t belong even though I’ve lived here since I was a child. I’ve worked and paid taxes since I was 16 – more than 40 years. Shelter from the Storm has been great, but I’m so frustrated and desperate to get back to work – I can’t think, I can’t plan, I feel without hope.
I believe there’s light at the end of the tunnel, with the help of my MP Emily Thornberry (who’s been amazing) my solicitor and Shelter from the Storm I should soon have my independence again.
Why The Philosophy Forum Helps Me:
My name is Alan and I am 38. I live in London and I’m homeless at the moment. I started going to the philosophy group at Shelter from the Storm where I’m a guest. Three weeks ago I went in to the forum thinking I would not enjoy or benefit from this group but how I was wrong! This group has helped me so much in my thinking and helped with seeing day to day things from a different angle. The philosophy forum gives me confidence and self- belief.
We have a different topic every week and they push my mind and thinking process to a different level. It brings a healthy debate in my mind and also teaches me that it’s not all about my opinion being right because I think there is no right or wrong really in philosophy. I would stand in front of anyone to say that this group should be back to hilt and can help many walks of life. I can see this helping really anyone and it will add something worthwhile to them- a healthy mind is a powerful tool. I think philosophy group brings that.
I’m from Sunderland. My father has been put in prison for life, but he was absent when I was little and we really only ever saw him in prison. My background is pretty chaotic. My Nan was lovely and my main carer – she brought up me, my sister and brother and a cousin. My mum has been there throughout my life. She wasn’t a drug user or drinker but she just couldn’t cope with kids. When I look back I realise she was just so young and my dad was no support as he was in and out of jail. When you’re a bairn and you go to visit prison, they search you – even your nappies and they use sniffer dogs on you. I visited him in Durham and in Stockton where they put Category A, murderers etc.
Nan was brilliant, she signed us up for Performing Arts, dancing and singing classes to keep us out of trouble. At mainstream school I was badly behaved and non-academic. At one point, mum moved nearby with a boyfriend but relations deteriorated – it was like Eastenders. She said it was because I was so badly behaved. People tried to bully me at school but I would retaliate. I spent a lot of time in isolation. They put you in a room all day with a teacher – you have to arrive after the other kids and you leave before them – I did that for a year. You didn’t have anything to do – they gave you a load of old exam papers to look at. I still managed to get a C for English GCSE – I did ‘Of Mice and Men’ which I thought was brilliant and Romeo and Juliet.
I left school and worked for Sunderland Council as an apprentice carer for adults with learning difficulties. I got Apprentice of the Year and I was taken on as a full-time employee and did it for two and a half years. The job was very stressful, caring for adults with really challenging behaviour. I nearly had my face bitten off – I was assaulted on a daily basis. The men we looked after had been institutionalised for a long time and we were trying to help them integrate back into the community. I was well trained and qualified, but the service was just so understaffed and underfunded – sometimes we had to do back to back shifts.
I left Nan’s to get my own place and I went off the rails a bit – lots of partying. I was earning £1,500 a month, the sort of money I’d never had in my life. I surrounded myself with the wrong people. I was really chaotic – didn’t know what on earth I was doing with myself. My Nana was getting too old to look after me and my problems and I was falling apart. I’d had enough and I left my job and I lost my home.
I was 18, homeless with no family around, so I packed a small suitcase and took the coach to Victoria. A charity put us in a backpacker, but only for a couple of nights. Then someone told us about New Horizon day centre and they made referral for Shelter from the Storm. I was really lucky to get a bed and only had to spend a few nights on the streets.
I it was a massive relief when I first arrived at the shelter, the people made me feel so safe and welcome. It was lovely to have a proper cooked meal like my Nan used to make. Cookie was amazing, helped me a lot, made loads of referrals for me. The YMCA knocked me back because of my troubled past. I felt really low, I would just burst into tears. Cookie got me into the Islington Crisis House for a couple of weeks because my mental health was so bad. She finally helped me get my own place and I love it. I’m working with the Prince’s Trust on Music and Art, I’ve become a rapper and people tell me I’m good, I’ve done YouTubes.
The shelter has helped me change my life. My mental health has improved massively. I’ve got friends and the shelter still supports me, I enjoy coming back to visit, it feels like a second home. When I first arrived in London, I went to the Notting Hill Carnival with a friend from the shelter and I just loved it – the life, the music, the energy – I felt at home in a way I didn’t in Sunderland. I’m 20, my whole life is ahead of me and I’m going to make my dreams come true.
I’m a Hoxton girl. I was born in Sillitoe House on the Colville Estate. We had no electric, just a little gas cooker on legs and gas lights. Mum, dad and 5 children in 2 bedrooms. We moved out of there to a 3-bed maisonette, which we thought was very posh – height of luxury. It had electricity! We didn’t realise mum had to put money in the meter and we’d run around playing the lights. My dad was a Long-Distance Lorry Driver, my mum was an office cleaner and a School Dinner Lady. The neighbours were a bit snooty about mum working and leaving her children, but mum believed she was giving us a better standard of living – and she was. We were never hungry or cold or without shoes or winter coats. We all had bronchial problems and the old Metropolitan Hospital advised us to move out of London. We did a Council House exchange and moved to Haverhill in Suffolk. I missed London so much – I’m a London girl!
After 7 years in Suffolk we came back to live in Edmonton. I got a job at Villiers Shoes – it was owned by two brother who’d escaped the Holocaust – they had their numbers tattooed on their arms. We sold old stock High Street brands. My job on a Monday morning was to clean off the brand names with methylated spirits. I earned £11 for a 6-day week, but I always had all the latest shoes.
I got married at 17, my family were dead against it but gave in eventually. He had a motor bike, long hair and a leather jacket – bit of a ‘Greaser’ I suppose. He was a huge man, very violent – physically, verbally and emotionally. I ended up in hospital three timed with broken ribs, black eyes and broken nose. The rest of the time I just put up with it – put on a brave face – put up and shut up. After he’d been violent, he always said he loved me and promised he’d never do it again. I was 21 and we were all going to a party. He was going to be late, so I went on without him. When he finally arrived, I opened the door to him and the next thing I knew, I was coming round in Chase Farm Hospital. He’d knocked me out and I was in hospital for three days.
I went home to mum and dad, they never said, “I told you so”. It was 1978, I was 21 and I didn’t have another relationship till 1990 when I was 33. I was a canteen assistant and he was a removal man. We were very happy together, we didn’t drink or smoke but we enjoyed going to the pub for the Darts club – bit boring I suppose, but we liked it. With hindsight, I suppose I was a bit of a dogsbody for him and his family, but I didn’t mind, they were my family too.
Things took a turn when his mum fell ill. Me and his mum got on really well, I was her main carer and saved her life a couple of times. My partner became very anxious and difficult around his mum’s ill health and it put a huge strain on our relationship. I suggested we try to talk about it. He refused to discuss anything and said “If you don’t like it, you can **** off – it’s not your ****ing house.” I popped out to get his mum’s medicine and pension and when I returned, he’d locked me out. The family tried to mediate, but he just wouldn’t budge. After 28 years, he just wiped me from his life – rubbed me out. When my niece finally made contact so I could collect my ID and belongings, his sister said, “We don’t want anything to do with her – she’s out of our family, she’s out of our lives.” I was in total shock, we’d had a really good strong relationship until his mum’s illness. His whole personality seemed to change . I was absolutely devastated – I was heart broken.
I sofa surfed with friends and family for 17 months. One day I’d just had enough of imposing on everyone and I left to live on the streets. I stayed in Libraries all day, I’d shower at my sister’s and friends would give me food. I stayed awake at bus stops all night.
One day I was at the bus stop outside Mildmay Library and a woman from the flats opposite came over with tea and toast and said, “Excuse me, but are you homeless?” I asked why and she said, “Don’t be embarrassed, I’ve been there myself” She told me to go to the Manna in Canonbury.
I’d been on the streets 5 weeks, all during The Beast from the East. I wasn’t frightened, I’d just come to the end – I never thought of killing myself, I just didn’t care what happened to me anymore. No one realises how mentally and physically exhausting it is on the streets. Will I be safe, will someone attack me, when will I eat, will I fall ill – you’re constantly on alert. I pitched up at the Manna on the Tuesday and by Friday, I’d got a bed at the shelter. I was in pretty poor shape, I’d lost loads of weight. My first few days were very emotional. I hadn’t slept in a bed for 5 weeks. People were so kind and supportive – didn’t judge me. I had a shower and got my clothes washed, had a lovely, proper cooked, hot dinner – there was company, people who cared. I could finally relax and feel human again. The Counsellor at the shelter really helped me get some perspective on the things I’ve experienced.
We’ve finally sorted out my paperwork – it was a real shock to have to prove my existence for the last 28 years. I’m waiting for an assessment for supported housing – my own proper little home for life – maybe a little bit of a garden? I’d love a garden, I’m good with a garden. It will be the first time in my life I have ever lived on my own. After 61 years, I can’t wait.