I’ve been thinking a lot recently about life or more specifically my life the last 3 years in particular. You see for the last 3 years I’ve been homeless. Now not all of that time has been rough sleeping homeless, I’ve been in temporary accommodation which is when the local council uses empty council houses/flats, B&B both with and without breakfast included, hostels both with and without curfews, night shelters which are church halls or other large open halls with anything from a thin mattress to a proper bed like you get in temporary accommodation, you have to leave night shelters by a specific time usually about 30 minutes after the lights are turned on or hostel, however most people would still count it as a camp bed. The last 8 months have been predominantly a mixture of night shelters occasional B&B and rough sleeping. When I rough sleep I either as far out of the city as possible, catnap on a night bus or stay up walking around with a cuppa in a all night fast food restaurant. I’ve come to see one particular chain of fast food restaurants as not the unethical places of past thought patterns but an essential part of my life. My life would be made so much harder to the point of impossibility if it weren’t for these places and the staff who put up with such abusive behaviours from customers are some of the nicest people you will meet. They really don’t deserve or merit the way some people treat them.
However I digress this post was meant to be about the worst aspect of being homeless.
At the start of my homeless career I considered the fact I couldn’t wash the worst aspect of my situation however my thinking has changed. Perhaps it’s a lowering of my standards and diminished sense of smell or the fact I’ve got good at finding places where I can shower. Nowadays between wet wipes in toilet cubicles and biweekly showers I don’t consider the lack of showers the worst aspect of homelessness.
Lack of a safe bed at night well that’s never been that high up on the list, although right at the beginning it got near. I actually feel cooped up and trapped if I stay too long sleeping in the same place now I need my nights outside. Most B&Bs and hostels have curfews usually 11pm till 7am most also ban smoking indoors. I have insomnia and being trapped in a small room with nothing to sit on but the bed or floor and not being allowed to smoke a cigarette is hellish. Breaking curfew or smoking or breaking any of the other rules, one B&B had 2 sides of A4 worth of rules, means being evicted from the B&B or hostel. Plus the owners can and do enter the room at anytime with zero notice. Some hostels wait till your out before going into the room. Staff should not take anything or have a good nosy round but who is going to believe a homeless person over a paid staff member and once something has disappeared how do you prove that you had it in the first place. I actually consider rough sleeping preferable to the curfewed B&B where you can only cook in a microwave sorry I’m a very good hob cooker, can whip up a very nutritious and tasty meal with a saucepan, frying pan and a kettle.
So if its not washing facilities and it’s not accommodation what is the worst part. Any guesses? Food I hear someone in the back shout, money I hear from over on the left. Both wrong I’m afraid.
There are lots of good people out there who cook meals, do soup runs (go round in a car or van or even on foot handing out hot drinks and sandwiches sometimes even small essentials like soap, socks, hats, gloves, sleeping bags etc.) I am forever indebted to these beautiful people. Money well a little known fact is if you have no address, if your in a hostel B&B or any other type of temporary accommodation you can use that address, rough sleepers have no address but there are charities that sometimes provide a correspondence address service or the local Job Centre will let rough sleepers use that as a correspondence address. I’ve yet to see a Job Centre used as a night shelter but they are big enough and open plan now however I doubt turning Job Centres into night shelters will take off too much work putting the desks back in morning plus no loos. However if you have an address you can claim benefits. Work Coachs’ do actually understand that you can’t work without a address but do like to see people to make sure they are still alive. Is being paid to turn up to an appointment really that hard?
So money and food is covered, washing and sleeping is also covered ok none are covered in a way that most people would consider acceptable but 3 years have lowered my expectations somewhat.
So I’m going to put you out of your misery and tell you what the worst thing about being homeless is. It’s being the one that needs to be helped. It’s being seen as a charity case. It’s not being allowed to work or be of use. It’s about having to be helped not because you actually need to have things done for you but because of your lack of housing others consider that you are incapable. It’s the enforcement of hopeless as soon as the person hits rough sleeping homeless.
Well tonight I was given such a gift I hope so much that the lady and gentlemen who gave me this gift read this blog. These two people allowed me to be capable, they allowed me to help them, they allowed me to be human.
I’m not going to go into details because it would not be fair on them. Instead I want you all to know how much I and other homeless people get punished for every and any show of capability. Denial of services, suddenly there are unfortunately no more donations of the item you need. Opportunities to progress are repeatedly promised but never materialise, this includes volunteering to help with even the most basic tasks, I reckon if I offered to clean the loo blocks in the homeless centre I would be told that I couldn’t for some excuse or another. Repeatedly showing capability will lead to some more malicious workers finding out what helps you cope and what you find unbearable then force the unbearable on you and do everything they can to ensure what helps you are the things you can’t do.
Tonight was different I was able to not only be of use but to care. It’s just after 4:30am I’ve finished my cuppa and need to head off. But I still have the smile on my face that these people gave me, I also have the confidence that the interview advice I was given has created. I will treat myself today because last night two strangers allowed me to be the caring capable human that I am. I reckon that they saw past the dirty clothes, big rucksack and grimy skin and saw a human being not much different from themselves.
If you are reading this blog I reckon you will know who you are, please accept my heart felt thanks for letting me be human. I hope you are both ok.