meet a guest D

I’m a nomad. I was born in Cambridge in 1964 – my parents were South African hippies and my father came to Cambridge to study medicine.  Cape town in the 60’s was very glamorous – a great liberal, social scene.  My father left us when I was four and my sisters were six and two.  My mother was quite embittered by being left.  She’d followed my father all over the world and then he left her for a younger model.  We moved back to South Africa and my mother went back to nursing to support us – she was a Matron in a Cape Town hospital.

My mother made us very aware that she’d sacrificed her life for us – working all hours to send us to private schools.  When I finished school, I worked as a nurse to pay for my own University place studying psychology, but I dropped out.  I had no support structure and I lived with street people and squatted in Cape Town. When I was 23, I came to London, became a Punk and squatted in Clapton.  I was doing a lot of performance and dancing and travelled back and forth from Jo’burg to London. I had a baby at 27 and another at 31 – I looked after them as a single parent until they were adults.  Life in Jo’burg was pretty extreme – violent and hard.  In 2004/5, I wrote to Tony Blair asking him for help to get away from South Africa. Got a polite reply, but no actual help.

I’d been managing to support us all with work as a journalist, but by 2010 I was out of work.  In 2011, I started my PHD – the kids had grown up and I was on my own.  I sold all my possessions and started travelling across Africa.  My PHD was about the psychological effects of HIV on women.  I would work for a few months then continue my travels.

In a way, I made myself homeless – living in my car in UK and my tent in Africa.  NGO’s in Africa were always very supportive and often gave me paid work.  I lived this nomadic, borderless life, never really feeling at home anywhere. Up to the end of 2016, I lived in my car in Cape Town near to my kids, but  I’d just had enough, so I sold my car and came to UK in January.  I didn’t have a Cent!  I spent the first weeks on the streets around Victoria.  It was bitterly cold and I got ill.  I was told that to get help, I had to be ‘spotted’ on the streets like a wild animal. I went to the Passage in Victoria, but none of the street outreach helped me get a bed.  I met an old friend and Sofa surfed for a while until I somehow got a space in a Churches Winter Shelter.  When the churches shelter closed down I followed some homeless Polish men to a park in Leyton Marshes and I camped there with them.  I guess I thought I’d be safer with them, but they robbed me of everything – my tent, my laptop, my clothes, my sleeping bag.  Luckily, I always keep my ID on me.  That Sunday I went to a Soup Kitchen in Walthamstow.  There was a Christian guy there, a Zimbabwean, and he said I could stay with him.  He was a fundamentalist born again Christian.  This guy became quite abusive and controlling.  He tried to convert me and told me my Catholic godmother was a devil worshipper.  I’d had enough and went to St Mungo’s and begged them to help me.  This time, after three months of asking, they referred me to Shelter from the Storm.

At Shelter from the Storm, I found a place of peace where I didn’t feel hunted, where I could get some sleep and headspace – one of the most underrated human needs. SFTS helped me find my own place.  They’re so lovely at the shelter, but I need my own space – somewhere I can play a little music and have a little dance.  I chose my life and I don’t regret it.

AA Gill

It’s six years since AA Gill first visited us at the shelter and wrote about us so beautifully and brilliantly.  He was a great friend to SFTS and many people who read his piece about the shelter in Christmas 2011, continue to support us and volunteer today.  He cooked for our guests a couple of times – here he is with “the blonde”. We’re so sad he’s no longer with us. Read again his lovely piece about us:

meet a guest Kim

Hi, my name is Kim.  What have I got to show for my life?  Three children I hardly see – nowhere to live – Oh, I wonder sometimes what is the bloody point of it all.  Should I give up or just stay for the long run?  It’s not easy when you suffer with depression to know what’s best to do or where to go.

I came to Shelter from the Storm just over a month ago. The reason I was sent here was because of domestic violence with my boyfriend, now ex-partner.  He put his hands round my throat, caused a big row and told me to get out of his flat.  That was on a Tuesday afternoon; I slept rough at London bridge for the night – feeling scared, unsure what to do and nervous.

In the morning, I went to a homeless place called the Manna Centre, had something to eat and spoke to an advisor.  She phoned round a couple of places and I was told to be at SFTS at 6 o’clock.  They gave me great advice on what I had to do, I’ve met a lot of great people and I should be moving into my own place soon.  If it wasn’t for the staff and people that volunteer here, I would still be on the streets.

Thank you everyone at Shelter from the Storm


meet a guest Robin

I’m from Tottenham, St Annes Road and I was born in the North Middx Hospital. My dad was American and my mum from Jamaica. My dad was a GI and mum came here in the late 50’s. When I was 9 they split up. When dad left I really missed him and I became uncontrollable. I started hanging out with much older men and they used me to break in to shops and schools to steal. I was caught and put in a children’s home, Northolt Place – I was assessed there and they did a case conference on me. The Judge said there was no reason I shouldn’t go back home, but mum said no – she didn’t want me.

They sent me to Sir Thomas Moore Community School in West Sussex. It was run by the Christian Brothers and it was a pretty violent, abusive environment – we got hit a lot! When I was 11, I went to my first foster family in Crawley. They were lovely people but I kept running away to mum and she kept sending me back. After that I was fostered twice more, always lovely people but I always ran back home and my mum always returned me.

I left Thomas Moore at 17 and ended up in Margaret Thatcher’s ‘Short Sharp Shock Treatment’ – DC in Ashford. I was still getting in to lots of trouble and after DC, I ended up in Borstal. After Borstal I started stealing cars – Cortina’s, Corsairs, Capris, Grenadas – all nice cars. I got knicked and sent to prison.

At 22 I was released from prison and met a lovely girl at a party. We were together 28 years and have 2 beautiful daughters. I was still mixed up with gangs but I also did some legitimate work – mechanic, security, scaffolding. While I was living this gang life I got shot 5 times.  I also got knifed very badly. I’ve got a big scar on my back. They cut me with a dirty Stanley knife.  It got infected and I had to have a big operation.

I was about 35 and after the stabbing, I went to the US to look for my father, my aunt had kept in touch. I rang him and said I needed his help – had a lot of questions to ask. We were driving over Brooklyn Bridge and he opened up to me. He said he’d heard that I was in trouble and he’d come back to the UK to look for me but my mum had prevented him from contacting me. He even tried to apply through the courts but she stopped him. It meant a lot to me to know that he’d tried to find me.  Later, my son went to live with him in the States.

When I got another stabbing there was a rumour I was dead and my sister phoned my dad to tell him.  It seems the shock gave him a massive heart attack and he died in front of my son. My son hasn’t forgiven me or spoken to me since – he’s still in the States

It was difficult to escape from this sort of gang life. At the time I didn’t want for anything and life was good until I tried to leave – I wanted to see my kids grow up.  I’d seen 12 friends die and I just wanted out – a lot of funerals and no weddings. That’s when the trouble started. I was about 49 and I told them I didn’t want to be in it no more. I got my head chopped! I had to leave my family because I was frightened for their safety. I moved into my aunt’s house in Tottenham.  I’m at home at my Aunt’s when 2 gang members visit me – a guy and a girl. They ask me to do something I didn’t want to do – I said I couldn’t help them. The girl asked for the toilet and while I was showing her, the guy put 6 armour plated bullets under my bed.  45 minutes after they left the police arrived and I was arrested for possession of ammunition. They smashed up my aunt’s flat looking for the gun. I pleaded guilty and got 2 years in Pentonville.  On release I had nowhere to go, I couldn’t go back to my aunt’s and although my mum is still alive, I haven’t spoken to her for years. I knew a guy who worked in a Gym so I’d sneak in there just before they closed and leave when they opened up in the morning.  The agencies that were supposed to be supporting me when I left prison didn’t really do anything – luckily I got a referral to Shelter from the Storm. My years of violent, gang life has taken it’s toll – I’ve been told I’ve got PTSD – to be honest, I was only a child when I started. I’m getting my life back together and what I’d really like is for one day to be able to mentor and help other kids escape the sort of life I’ve lived.



meet a guest Robert

Eventually I’d love to get a place for me and Sarah to start afresh. I’d like a completely empty shell – just a small flat and we’d finish it – make it ours. Start from scratch – a mattress, a chair, find some speakers – the first tune we’d play would probably be Herbie Hancock, maybe Chick Corea – and go from there.

I was born in Clapton in 1962, I’m 52 and I’ve lived in Stoke Newington most of my life. My mum still lives there, she’s 85 and she’s got vascular dementia – she’s ok but she gets pretty fed up with the carers. I went to Upton Park Boys School in Clapton. I was happy at school – I liked anything technical or mechanical and I wanted to be an engineer. I was in the Air Cadets and I thought about signing up for the Air Force. I got an apprenticeship at Allied Foundries in Dalston as a tool and pattern maker but I didn’t finish it because I lost my log book.

I got jobs temping in warehouses and factories – worked at Maynard’s Wine Gums for a bit.  I was a little bit naughty when I was a teenager – got mixed up with some wrong people. I got nicked for stealing a car radio – got a fine and had to go some place every Saturday for a couple of months and I think we had to run around a playground or something. But…it put paid to my Air Force hopes. I had to see a probation officer and one of their ‘partners’ offered me a job doing graffiti, where they also gave me a video camera which really fascinated me. I started a short course at South Thames College – I loved it. I started applying for jobs working with video and got a job with a hire company. I got to take equipment to TV companies and exhibitions. I did that for a couple of years till I was made redundant. Luckily in those days, I could always get work temping.

I volunteered at the National Film & Television School in Beaconsfield where I helped with the editing.  I applied to study editing but sadly didn’t get in – my life would’ve been very different if I had. At the time, it was a bit of a blow.

I met someone who was making a documentary about black coal miners and I ended up being the editor on it as well as being production manager.  It was called Skin and Coal – it was sold to Channel 4 and I was proud. I thought it was an excellent little film. During the editing, my dad died and that derailed me a bit.  He had a bit of life insurance and I got about £10,000 – I lived off that for a couple of years and then just lived and worked.

Sarah is a brilliant artist and I met her in 2014 through friends. She was homeless, so she came to live with me and my mum.  She has mental health issues and eventually got a hostel place with St Mungo’s. They mucked her about a bit, first they said she’d be there 18 months, then they said they’d be closing down in 6 months. This upset her, she likes things to be as she’s been told they’ll be. The accommodation they offered her was pretty poor – just small rooms with a loo and shower in them. One place we looked at, someone offered to sell us drugs.  She didn’t like any of them and in the end, St Mungo’s kicked her out and she came back to live with me and mum.

It was the last West Ham game at Upton Park and there’s this fence you can climb along to sneak in. Sarah was a bit drunk and slipped and cut her hands badly.  We watched a bit of the match, but had to get the first aiders to bandage her up. One day mum’s carers came and mum was hiding, she used to do that, but they thought it was something to do with Sarah and her bandages. A week later I got a call from my sisters to say we had a week to clear out – they thought mum was frightened of Sarah, but she wasn’t, Mum and Sarah got on well. We were up all that night, walking till morning, then Sarah went to her hospital appointment and I went to work as a Postman.  I’d been working full time as a Postman since 2008.

Sarah had a 2-man tent and we pitched it on Stoke Newington Common. We’d put it up quite late, about 10ish and have it all wrapped up by 5.30am.  We cleared all the rubbish so no one would know we’d been there and hide the tent in the bushes. I’d go off to work and Sarah would go to a day centre. It was quite cosy in the tent – we’d get picnics from the supermarket, maybe some beers for Sarah but not usually for me.  We did this for about 6months – we had 5 tents in all – they kept getting nicked. We camped in Wanstead Flats and the park rangers pinched our tent but mostly we camped in Stoke Newington so I could pop back to mum’s for some bits. Sundays we’d go to the Rochester Castle for breakfast. Sarah liked the Eggs Royale which is poached eggs, smoked salmon and rocket – I’d have the Full English with extra eggs. We’d have endless coffee refills, charge our phones and use the bathrooms – once Sarah dyed her hair in the loos. Occasionally we’d stay in a B&B for a bit, maybe a Travel Lodge which was a bit of luxury.

It was getting cold and it was tiring. Even if we found a cheap hotel, it was hard work.  I was in Catch 22 – couldn’t save for a deposit because it was costing so much for B&Bs. Xmas 2016 we stayed in a Travel Lodge and hired some Boris Bikes but Sarah fell off and broke her ankle. The pain was so bad that she had to go into hospital to have it operated on.

Finally, Sarah got a hostel place because of her mental health.  For the first couple of weeks she wouldn’t stay, so we’d hang out in Stratford or stay in hotels. I’d been extending my overdraft to pay for everything and in the end the bank pulled the plug!

Ever since Sarah and I met, even before we got together we’d always been in touch and it was difficult for us to be apart.  Sarah had to spend more time at the hostel (she was still in plaster) and I spent nights sleeping out.  I went to the Welcome Day Centre that we used in Ilford, they referred me to the shelter and soon after I got a bed.

When I first arrived, I thought this is a lot better than sleeping out. I’m used to my own company, so I find the lack of privacy a bit difficult at times.  I built up a lot of debt which I’m slowly working to pay off and living at the shelter is a big help with that –   but I’ll do it and make a home for me and Sarah.

meet a guest Thomas

Thomas’s story of an Islington childhood and sleeping rough on the streets of Kentish Town

I’m 26 – my family lived in Market Road Islington and I was born in University College Hospital. I’ve got a little brother who’s nearly 22. Growing up in Islington was good.  I went to Brecknock School and then on to Holloway Boys.  It was good to hang out with my mates and my best friend was Charlie.  We played a lot of football, I was in the school team and in the local league – we were pretty good and won the trophy 3 or 4 times.  At 16 I went to City & Islington 6th form college to study ICT and I passed my entry level.  I had a wicked teacher called Lee and I had a great time there.  All this time I was living at home but life there was very harsh and difficult.

2 years ago, my dad nearly died.  He had a terrible accident when he fell down the stairs.  It was all very odd.  He’d been trying to wake me up for work, but it was only 3 in the morning.  We don’t really know what happened, but he must’ve become disorientated and fell. It was really bad, he was in a coma for 2 months with a blood clot in his head.  Then he got better and came home.

I was working at Screwfix and I was really frustrated – I had a lot on my mind.   My mum was in rehab and I was worried about her.  I was also worried about my dad – he was finding it difficult to be without my mum – he’d never been apart from her for 27 years.  I was really rude to my manager, but I was having such a rough time with everything – I regret it, but there you go – he sacked me!  When I lost my job, relations with my dad deteriorated.  We were getting on each other’s nerves and it got a bit out of hand and he kicked me out.  I was sleeping on the streets in Kentish Town round the back of the Co-Op. It was horrible.

I’d been on a training programme with the Arsenal on and off for 6years. I was so desperate that I called Jack who works for the Arsenal programme and asked if he could help me, as a long shot, he called Shelter from the Storm and amazingly they had a bed for me.  They were so welcoming to me at SFTS, they did everything they could to help me.  I saw the SFTS counsellor which helped me get back on track.

Mum had a bit of a wobble, but she’s back in rehab now which is great – I want her to get the best help possible.  Cookie found a place for me to move into and I’m off tomorrow.

I’m feeling optimistic about the future – I’m looking for work and I’m still volunteering at the Arsenal.  I am so grateful for the shelter and all the help they gave me when I really needed it

meet a guest: Liya

IMG_4835Liya: Read the heart breaking story of her journey from war torn Africa to a cruel & frightening life in the UK

I’m 29, I was born in Assab, Eritrea on the shores of the Red Sea. My mum was a housewifeand my dad was an accountant. We had a comfortable life. I was their only child – my mum suffered in some way when she gave birth to me and couldn’t have any more children – no one ever told me the details and she died from her medical problems when I was quite young.

When I was 12, dad and I moved to Sudan because of the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia. We lived in Dueim and had a small supermarket – just me and dad. It was ok – not as nice as home, but ok. I didn’t get an education; my dad was frightened to let me go to school – soldiers would abduct the young people and take them back for military training. For a long time I didn’t work but then I got a job for a lady as a housemaid and looking after her children. She had a restaurant in her front room for 5 or 6 people and I’d help with the cooking.
When I was 25, my dad got very sick – I don’t know what was wrong but he had a catheter and I couldn’t care for him – he had sisters at home who could look after him, so he went back.
I was 26 when I left Sudan – life there was so very hard.

My uncle paid for a broker – I don’t know how much. There was 6 of us and we hid in the agent’s house for 4 months waiting for him to organise the trip. The agents are frightened of getting caught – they’d be imprisoned and probably have all their money taken off them. I was the only girl, but the boys were ok. Eventually we got a plane to France with fake passports. The agent had some friends who took us from the airport to a refugee jungle – not Calais. It was Winter, I had never experienced such cold and snow – it was awful. Some of the French people were very kind and brought us food and clothes and shoes – once a week we got a shower in a church. I was there 20 days – every night we would go to the lorry park and try to stowaway in the lorries. People would help us to climb in while the driver was asleep in his cab. It was really frightening – the drivers would wake up and chase us away. Twice I succeeded but was thrown out when I was discovered when the lorry was X-rayed. One night we got in and got across the Channel – 4 boys and 2 girls.

IMG_4834I don’t know where I arrived in the UK but the Police found us in the lorry and we were put in a detention centre. I claimed asylum and was sent to NASS accommodation in Glasgow. I was with an Iranian Girl I’d been in detention with and she was nice and the accommodation was ok.
After 2 months, I got my refugee status, started to work as a packer at Amazon and got council accommodation. The second day in the new place, the neighbours wrote on my wall N*****S OUT. They would put vomit in my doorway – spit on my door – break my windows – try to kick my door in – throw rubbish around my entrance – put fire-works through my letter box – they burnt my name off my door. When I left the house, they would regularly throw urine on me from the flats above. When I saw the N*****S OUT graffiti I was terrified, I called my housing officer, but they advised me not to go to the Police – they were worried that my neighbours would hurt me even more and that the Police wouldn’t be able to protect me.
I lived like this for 2 years and my neighbours never let up. I would come home from work and gangs of youths would be sitting on the stairs, smoking weed and blocking my way – I was too scared to ask them to move and I’d just wait outside until they got bored and moved on. When I asked my housing officer to rehouse me, she gave me a diary to fill in – but I can’t write.
I’d got a new job at a chocolate factory and I was working 7 days a week, but when I do get home I can’t sleep because I’m so frightened. A friend from Church came to visit and they stole his car, drove it away and set light to it. 5 boys I knew got stabbed.

Every day I was getting nose bleeds and headaches because of the stress. My doctor gave me some medicine but she said I couldn’t take it long term – I don’t know what it was, but it did help me sleep for a bit.

I begged them in housing to give me somewhere safe to live, but they just said I’d got a Council House and that’s all they could do. One of them said I should go to the Police, but I was too afraid.

I’d had enough – I got on the train to Euston. I went to Islington Council who said I had to go back to Glasgow – I said no, it’s too dangerous. Within a day, I was in Shelter from the Storm. The volunteers and guests here have been very kind. I’ve been doing English classes and Cookie has helped me find a place of my own – It’s way out and I don’t know anyone there, but it’s got to be better than Glasgow!
My dad is a little better, but I miss him so much. Now I just want to get a job and in the future, I dream of becoming a Nurse.

Liya was too scared to share her picture or any of her home in Glasgow that might identify her



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:

meet a guest: Sophie


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.