On Tuesday 9th October, I joined a group of students and a lecturer for a sleep out to raise awareness of the issue of youth homelessness and to raise money for LandAid and RICS’ 150 pledge, which is trying to raise £2.25 million pounds to help tackle the problem.
Most of the time when people think of the homeless they tend to imagine people that have been beaten down by society, those that have some sort of ‘issue’ or those that struggle to function in society. Some of this may be the case, but it doesn’t explain it all, many have struggled with addictions and these grow until they find themselves out on the streets. Others are just like you and me and fell upon hard times and slipped through the cracks.
Sadly, there are approximately 80,000 homeless under the age of 25. These young men and women and those still identified as children have already fallen on tough times. They have reached a point where it is preferable to be on the streets, than in what should have been a safe environment. Some have had family issues, some behavioural and others abused but not all can be ‘bad kids’ or ‘troubled’. I for one know exactly how easy it is to find yourself in a situation where there may be no other option.
What very few people know is that for a period of time when I was under 18 years of age I spent a period of time as homeless.
It is not something that I have ever really talked about or even really considered then or since, it was just a situation I found myself in due to my decisions about my and other people’s actions. I will not go into the details of why I found myself in the situation of being homeless, it is much too long a story. From the outside, to neighbours, friends and extended family, I was simply a well brought up child with good manners, that had been to private and then state school following a divorce, came from a middle-class family, who simply one day was no longer living at home.
Most of the time I was homeless, I was able to sofa surf or grab a space on someone’s floor and for about 8 weeks had my own room in an acquaintance’s flat. While sofa surfing, I would go out late with people so that I could be somewhere warm for longer and just grab a space if it came up. I tried working cash in hand so that I would have money to pay my way but even back then, few companies were happy to do it and those that were, really weren’t that keen on employing a young girl. Cafes and holiday roles where I could make tips would become my lifeline. I made do and rubbed along but had no real idea what I would do to make ends meet, as I had been told repeatedly that there was not much I could access until I was 18 and that was going to be quite a long wait.
Only twice was I ever in the position of not having anywhere at all to go, both occasions I remember so clearly and they happened in the same village just outside Monmouth in Wales and about 2 weeks apart. The first was when a family member purposefully locked me out after asking me to make myself scarce for the evening. There was deep snow on the ground, it was a totally clear night, which meant that although beautiful it was bitterly cold. I had only been in the area a week after being told to come and stay so had no real idea of where I could go or anyway of getting there. I had gone to a house of a lady that I had been introduced to and who wanted to watch a video and have a quiet night so when she heard I had to give my family member some space she invited me to join her. It was about a 20-minute walk to her house and I tried to walk quickly as I had very limited access to warm clothes as I moved around with only 2 bags to my name. I stayed as late as I could but it was probably only about 2230 by the time I got back to where I was staying.
I immediately saw that all of the lights were off and every curtain or blind closed, this was unusual and I immediately had a sinking feeling. I went to let myself in but having not been given a key and finding the door locked I proceeded to knock. There was no way that they were asleep or that they wouldn’t have woken but after about 45 minutes I decided to give up and that no matter what I did they didn’t want me to let me back in. I started to walk up and down to keep warm but I was tired and the cold was making me want to curl up somewhere. Just around from the front door was an outside toilet with a sink and I decided that I would allow myself to curl up in there for 20-30 mins then forced myself to get up and get moving again before sitting back down. Let me tell you it was a very long night. In the morning the family member came straight to the door and told me I could go inside confirming that they had known all along where I was and I understood immediately that this had been about asserting their power and control over me. They wanted to be seen to help but didn’t really like the inconvenience or me really.
About 10 days later I knew that I couldn’t really going on living there and had tried desperately to apply through the council for help but had to give them a contact for where I was staying so they could assess my situation, after all they would rather keep me with family than have an under 18 in accommodation and costing them money and headaches. At the time I came to see this as one of the biggest mistakes that I could have made but retrospectively I can see that this just allowed me to move to a new faze of my life.
Anyway, the council reached out to the family member with my report and they didn’t like the fact that I had told them what had happened, that I knew they didn’t want me living there and that I was kept at arm’s length and only allowed very basic food. Well I guess you can imagine the scene when they got back from work… I was ungrateful, selfish, lazy and after money… maybe I was all of those things, maybe I wasn’t, but things escalated and it was not wise to be there that evening. They told me that I could come back in a few days but for now I had to find somewhere else to sleep.
I walked to the video lady’s house and explained what had happened and she agreed that I could stay with her and all would be fine. Her kids were going to her parents’ house for a few nights so she could let off some steam and so it would be fun to spend the time together. Starting that night, she said we were going to go to an event in the next village. I explained that I had only a few pounds to my name so couldn’t afford to go out but if she was happy I would stay at hers and would do housework to pay her back for letting me be there. She wasn’t really happy with this and it got a little awkward until I remembered a ring I had been given a few years back from a friend of the family who didn’t have children and didn’t want it due to bad memories. I said that I could pawn this the following day and get some cash then but she said that if I gave the ring to her she would give me some money and then there wouldn’t be any issues with me going out with her.
I got a grand total of £50 for the ring but decided as I was getting somewhere warm to stay and an actual bed to sleep in it was worth it. That night we went out and had a great time although I tried to spend as little as possible by drinking very slowly and asking for water as often as I could. At the end of the night she said she wanted to grab some chips before walking the 4 miles back as getting a taxi in the area would be expensive and near on impossible. We left together with a guy she had met and she sent me on ahead to buy the food so she could have a minute with the guy but when I came out they had gone. I knew there was no point waiting around as she would not be back so started to walk back to her house although only belatedly realising that I had no way to get in. I spend the night and the following walking around as it was too cold and dangerous at night to sleep out and I would find somewhere sheltered during the day to get a catnap. If I was ever asked what I was doing, I just joked and said I had had a late night and fell asleep while waiting for a bus or for a friend etc.
At the end of the second day I went back to her house to get my bag of clothes as I knew she would need to be there for her kids and found it outside the front door. I headed back to my family’s place and was allowed in. I had no idea how to move forward but just 3 days later after 7 or so years apart, I was reintroduced to my father. He simply asked me if I wanted to stay where I was or if I wanted to come back to his place and meet my step mother and figure out the next step. I took the chance, after all what did I have to lose?
This is when most would simply say, ‘and the rest is history’ and although that is correct, perhaps that is not where this experience should end. It shouldn’t be one of those things that I have accepted, ‘moved on from’ and swept under the carpet. I am not angry about it or bitter, I do not hold a grudge against my family or people involved, I have as they say ‘let it go’. By doing that however, I have not given it thought or attention, I have not looked at it from a mature perspective and said why and how could that happen and what could have been done. I have in theory been part of the problem, simply but not being part of a solution.
I do not think people should feel pity for someone like me and I don’t think anyone in that situation should wallow and not try to put it behind them. We all have history that is hidden under the carpet, creating a landscape of our lives, some have great mountains and others small potholes but each is totally unique and holds within it, knowledge that if shared may well help another or prevent the situation happening again.
I am proud of the person I have become and look forward to the new challenges ahead of me, but I am disappointed that after experiencing so much I have simply locked away the truth and forgotten about the problem even existing…. The self-centre of youth or human beings I guess. The only reason I am even writing this is due to the kind nature of a fellow student and the inspiration of a lecturer who together promoted an event to raise awareness of youth homelessness and for that I am very grateful.
The rough sleep with that group of people has given me the chance to reflect on my experiences, my life and my future. It has allowed me to see that a solution does not always need to be solely about money (although this certainly helps) but that recognition of a problem and the sharing of knowledge and a true understanding could go a very long way helping those in our communities that slip under the radar.
I will soon be in a position where my new degree (Property Development and Planning) could afford me the ability to make a change or to help others. I will never be able to prevent the situation from happening again, but perhaps having finally spoken out about what happened to me, a child from a ‘good family’, perhaps my experience will help others simply by increasing awareness or by helping to find a solution.
If you can please, support the campaign:
“RICS has launched a campaign with property industry charity LandAid to raise over £2 million in the biggest ever fundraising campaign for the charity. The funds will contribute to ending youth homelessness, and will provide safe, secure and affordable bed spaces across all 12 UK regions.”
You can donate via the national page:
Or via my personal fundraising page:
By Kate Robertson