I’m 19 and it was quite a shock to find myself homeless and at Shelter from the Storm. I was studying at Central Saint Martins and living in Halls. I needed to take time out from my studies. I am estranged from my family in the North of England and I was suffering emotional distress and found it difficult to concentrate on my degree. Because of this my Student Loan was suspended. I couldn’t pay my rent and had to leave my room. I managed to use the remains of my Bursary to fund hostels but that only lasted a couple of weeks. I went to New Horizon Youth Centre and they referred me to SFTS.
When I arrived at the shelter I felt very emotional and I cried all that first night, but I soon began to see that the people were really kind and supportive – they made me feel comfortable and tried to put me at ease. There is a stereotype of what a homeless shelter is, but I soon realised that this place wasn’t at all how I imagined a shelter would be – it’s homely and cosy. I like how there is autonomy here, you don’t feel dehumanised and I still have the freedom to be myself but in a supportive environment.
I’m looking at finding a nice job now so I can move into my own place as soon as I’m settled in my employment and have saved up enough for a deposit. I’m feeling more hopeful for the future and I want to resume my studies next year.
My name is Michael, and this is my story. ‘Shelter from the Storm’ (SFTS) saved my life. That seems quite a dramatic opener but it is so true it is for me a mandatory prerequisite to any narrative that I give in support of this brilliant, worthwhile and much needed charitable organisation. I am so pleased add that this is a story with a really good outcome.
Not so long ago I was living a very comfortable life. Approaching my mid-60s, in good health, and using my skills in corporate research and project management, I was able to pick and choose my contracts, travel extensively and enjoy life fully. I lived in a small studio in a very affluent part of North London, on a peppercorn rent that I had negotiated a long time ago. Life was good, and having recently come out of a long-term relationship, I was certainly lulled into thinking things would remain the same for some time to come.
Here’s a thing – you often hear it said that many of us are one pay cheque from difficulty and two pay cheques from disaster. Believe me – it’s very true! A perfect storm of difficulties and disasters were about to enter my life. My landlord passed away and very quickly the property went on the market and was sold. Simultaneously my contractual work slowed, and then stopped as part of reorganisations and cutbacks – too many eggs in too few baskets were bring the chickens home to roost, as it were.
What followed for me was a sadly well-trodden path travelled by so many who become homeless. Moving from rented properties, to rooms, to hostels – then using friends places – and then finding empty places to bed down in – and along the way shedding possessions, but above all losing feelings of security and not seeing a future.
By a stroke of luck, the Salvation Army referred me to SFTS. It was the most warm and friendly welcome by a team of dedicated professionals and volunteers. A clean and safe place to sleep, shower and eat – and I mean eat well. Really well-cooked meals taken with all the guests in the dining room – a great sense of community which I really valued.
But wait a minute, Michael, I hear you ask. You said at the outset that SFTS saved your life. How did that happen?
Well, one of the major milestones in my life was about to pop up. SFTS offer more than just a bed, a meal and a shower. There is a range of support to help guests including looking for and finding work, encouraging study, searching for more permanent accommodation, and also giving emotional and phycological support to those that request it.
I took the opportunity after a month or so of having a check-up with my GP. Why not I thought – after all I was nearly 65 and here was the time to examine my health. To cut a long story short, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. The process of GP referral to a hospital, a whole set of blood tests, MRI scans, PET Scan, diagnostics, consultations, took about a month during which time I was able to discuss my progress every week with the shelter Psychotherapist who gave of their time generously and with much understanding. The SFTS staff were very supportive, and through the process I had learnt that I had been lucky – very lucky. My cancer was localised and treatable. It was caught early!
That is why I owe my life to SFTS. Had I not been a guest there I would not have bothered with a full check-up. It would not have been something that I would have considered with the way I had been living before. I certainly would not have had the free facility of a private professional psychotherapeutic perspective! Can you imagine the cost of that on Harley Street!
So how does the story end. SFTS referred me to a supported housing association, and that is where I am now. I started my treatment there with the enormous help of a cancer support charity, and SFTS gave an open invitation to join them for evening meals as a former guest. Four years on and through a programme of radiotherapy and hormone treatment, I am clear of prostate cancer. Of course, the NHS check me over every six months and will do for the next four years. I am fit, healthy, and now looking to move onwards. Most importantly I am here to tell the story. A story that ends well.
Thanks Shelter from the Storm.
I was married for 20 years – it was quite a violent relationship and for the last 7 years my partner suffered from mental health issues. It wasn’t till I ended up in hospital with a broken jaw and fractured ribs that I realised it didn’t have to be like this. The hospital put me up in a hotel, but when that closed down, I was placed near to where my ex-partner lived. Wherever I managed to find a bed, it didn’t take long for him to find me.
People wonder why someone in my position doesn’t just leave, but they don’t understand how strong the emotional control is. He told me I couldn’t exist without him and I believed him – it seems extraordinary now! I’ve been away for a year now and it still feels unreal.
I had been sofa surfing all over the place till I got a referral to the Shelter and they offered me a bed.
Now I’m safe, I feel I can breathe again. I’m getting a lot of support from the staff and the other guests. The team are helping me to get permanent housing somewhere away from my ex.
I feel like I’ve been living under a rock for so many years and I’ve finally come up for air. I’m looking at going back to my studies in Health and Social Care Management. My dream is to be a Social Worker – I think I have a better understanding of the issues people suffer and I believe I can really make a difference.
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