Thursday, 16 October 2008

My Personal Experience of Homelessness

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?

Sharon J


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.


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Debi said...

You can't get more basic than food, clothes and shelter. Yet your statistics in the previous post show just how many people lack even these. Criminal.

Sharon J said...

Absolutely. And who are the criminals?

Jade of the Jungle said...

Wow, Sharon, just wow. That must have been really tough.

I'm sorry that you had to go through with that, but it sounds like you managed extraordinarily well and no wonder you have such a good sense of perspective!

And at least you all were there as a family, so many are going through that alone. I couldn't even begin to imagine.

The more I take a step back and look at the world, and hear the stories that I do, the more I realise what an ungrateful little madam I've been for all the good things that have happened to me. Modern society is all smoke and mirrors, I really need to regain some perspective.

Thank you so much for sharing.

J x

wombat064 said...

Dearest Sharon,
At some point in our lives a lot of us have be homeless and NO its not nice, its not good for us and ours, and it leaves some harsh scared memories that will stay with us forever.
However... In my case and I'm certain for you too, it has made us stronger and better people, able to cope with the little things in life that just every now and then sneak up on us and go SMACK hears a reality check for you.

I have been following your blog for some time now and I have built up a great amount of respect for you and the way you carry on life every day despite the hurdles life has thrown in your way.

Keep up the good work.


WebSmith said...

Well, it seems that many things are conspiring to make that more of a common theme here in the U.S. Tent cities are popping up all over the country, people are living in their cars, and people are even beginning to commit suicide so that their families will get the insurance money.

Hopefully, this time around, they will take care of those responsible

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry & sad that you and your children had to go through that. Somehow Sharon I feel it made you into the strong woman you are today.

Having food, water, sanitation, vaccinations, medical care, education and a roof over your head to me are the basics every single person deserves. I'd be willing to go without 1/2 my income or more if we could just make it equal.

Shelter is a brilliant organization!

Lizzie said...

Hi Sharon
We have been homeless too. We lived on income support after my husband was made redundant part way though my first pregnancy. Doesnt luck just come in lovely little flurries some times! We lived with relatives until we got a private flat, then a council flat and now our own house (after the kids were born their dad was ill and stuck at home, so i qualified as an accountant and went to work instead & he looked after the boys). I think it explains why my husband has a bit of a thing about investing in land. He has made up his mind maybe he doesnt know it,that however life turns out we wont be homeless again.

Anonymous said...

Sharon, I am sorry you had to go through that. You are right, NOBODY should have to suffer homelessness or hunger, yet even here in a small country town we see hundreds every year throughout our region (I work in health & welfare).

If we were all happy to accept less, if we were all happy to share more, waste less, much of what we see in our world today wouldnt hope is that in the harder times to come, humanity will realise where we all need to get back to!


Sharon J said...

@ Jade. I doubt you've been an 'ungrateful little madam' - just an ordinary person getting on with life and taking for granted the things that we ALL should be able to take fro granted.

@ Wombat. Yes, I do believe adversity makes us stronger but there's only so much of it anybody can take at one time before it gets too much. Some people, those who have to live with such problems over long periods, have it so tough that they may well lose their sense of perspective and never come about again as balanced individuals.

@ Websmith. It seems people in the US are having a much tougher time of it than here in the UK. Maybe our government takes better care of people even though they still have far to go?

@ Frugal Trenches. I've no doubt it's helped form me into who I am today and in that respect I'm glad it happened because who knows where I'd be otherwise. But as I said to Wombat, a certain degree of adversity can strengthen us, too much can destroy us.

@ Lizzie. I've had a second spell of living at a friend's house while my children stayed with my parents but luckily that was only for a short period. Rather that than in a car, though. I guess being pregnant didn't make your situation any easier though. The uncertainty can be difficult to cope with.

@ Molly. Nice of you to pop in.We can only wait now and hope that the current situation will teach people an important lesson.

Anonymous said...

i'd add to your list of basic human rights:
- water
- heating
- freedom from fear and violence

and i agree with debi- it's a crime that the majority of the world's human population goes without much of them for much of the time

sharon - major respect to you for coping, what an amazing story

Sharon J said...

Yes, I agree. They SHOULD all be basic human rights and it's absolutely disgusting that they're not.