Yesterday’s blog action posts really made me think. There were so many interesting and valid subjects and several have made me see things in a different light.
One thing I’d like to share with you is my own experience of homelessness. I’ve never had it anywhere near as bad as some, but I’ve tasted what it can be like and I hope and pray that neither my family or I ever have to experience anything like it again.
My experience of homelessness happened about 10 years ago now, maybe a little longer. Our family - that’s me, my ex and my three children - had moved to England in order to be closer to my mum. We rented a house on the south coast and set about finding jobs. That wasn’t too difficult, although my ex was on a minimum wage and, due to Paul’s special needs, I was only able to work part-time from home. The money we had coming in just wasn’t enough to keep up with the pressure of high rents in the south, food costs, transport, energy and everything else and as we‘d been out of the country for too long, we weren‘t entitled to benefits. After six months or so we realised that we couldn’t manage and would have to go back ‘home’ to Norway.
With the last of our money we booked our place on the ferry and with just a car laden with our personal possessions (only those that were important to us), we headed back, not knowing where we’d go or what we’d do. The dog and Lise’s pet rat came with us - the rabies tests etc were extra expenses we could have done without but we couldn’t leave them behind - they were part of the family and we figured this was going to be tough enough for the kids as it was, without having to lose their pets too.
The following couples of months were spent on friends’ sofas, in various cheap and ill equipped cabins (one was about 10 square meters and saw five of us in two very narrow bunk beds with nothing other than a two-ring burner and a very hard ‘sofa’ - no running water, nowhere to store anything and nowhere to move) and several nights spent sleeping in the car. Believe me, a small car laden with possessions is NOT comfortable when five are sharing with a dog and a rat! By the time we finally got out of the car and into yet another cabin, we were all so tired that I’m surprised we made it over the mountains in one piece. Some nights were spent in the forest, some on the beach - we kipped wherever we could.
The children took the whole experience surprisingly well. We lived on cheap (and not particularly nutritious) food but they didn’t seem to mind, and when they look back now, they say they didn’t realise just how serious the situation was and that to them it was just another adventure; they met lots of new people and did things that other kids didn’t normally do. Fair enough. But would they have felt the same way if the situation had continued for months or even years? At least we weren’t ‘on the street’, but plenty of children are, and will be for most if not all of their lives.
When we eventually found a house we could afford to rent (the social had come through with financial help for us by this point), it was way up in the mountains and pretty much a tumble-down shack but that didn’t matter - it was a roof over our heads and we could stay as long as we needed to. As it turned out, those six months spent living at Bontveit were some of the best of my life - the people on the mountain were incredibly friendly and the nature…. well, you’d have to see the place to believe it. Who wouldn’t want to go swimming in a natural pool at the foot of a huge waterfall whenever the sun shone (and it did that year - a lot!)? Who wouldn’t want to eat breakfast on the veranda whilst looking out across the valley where an eagle flew across every morning? I’d swap it again for town life any day! We still didn’t have much in the way of material possessions - just a few bits of second-hand furniture we’d manage to find at the local Sally Army shop - but we had each other and we were immensely happy. Until my ex got sick that is… then things went pear-shaped again and we headed off back to England. And here we still are, minus the ex but with experience that has helped shape us.
Being homeless and broke was tough, there’s absolutely no doubt about that. You worry constantly about where the next meal’s coming from, where you’re going to put your head down for the night, how the children are going to be effected by it all, what it might do to your health and much, much more. For the sake of the children we had to try to hide the severity of the situation, but it isn’t easy when everything around you seems bleak and you’ve no idea what the future might bring. You try to stay optimistic and find the little things that still make life good, but for every night you spent sleepless, worrying, it becomes increasingly difficult. And although you don’t want to feel bitter, when you see people spending money on luxuries that they take back to their huge, expensive homes, it’s difficult not to be.
NOBODY should have to experience homelessness EVER. If we all shared the resources we have more equally, it would never need to happen. Basic shelter, food and clothing are surely HUMAN RIGHTS?
To find out more about homelessness in England and Scotland, please visit Shelter. You can also make a donation on the site to help eradicate homelessness and help the many who are experiencing our government's failure to provide adequate housing for those who are in need of it most.