Category Archives: News

Podcast Lina’s story


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.


alphonsusI 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!

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.

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!

Our very own World Record Holder!

Forget Mad Max, we’ve got Mad Mike:

Michael Mercer, great friend of SFTS, has recently become a Guinness World Record holder, all in aid of the shelter. Against all better judgement, he accepted the challenge to complete the London Marathon (all 26.2miles!) wearing a sleeping bag.  We’re very proud of him completing the course in 4 hours 20 minutes and raising over two thousand pounds.  If anyone else would like to do something equally daredevil, please contact us at SFTS Record Breakers HQ

Hackney Half Marathon

Our Hackney Half Marathon Superstars.  Team SFTS SMASHED IT this year and raised over eight thousand pounds. We counted them out and we counted them all back in. Lots of sore knees but no serious injuries – phew! Magnificent effort guys!