My Life – Ben
I was made homeless after a difficult relationship breakdown.
I then lost my job and couldn’t afford the rent.
Christmas 2019 was a pivotal time in my life. After living on the streets on and off for 5 years, I was offered a room in one of Turning Tides’ accommodation on Lyndhurst Road. It was the first time in a very long time that I felt safe and had a reason for living.
I was made homeless after a difficult relationship breakdown. My girlfriend moved back to her parents, I then lost my job and couldn’t afford the rent. Pride got the better of me and I just couldn’t ask my family and friends for help. So, I bought a cheap Mitsubishi Colt to sleep in but as a man of six foot four, it wasn’t the most suitable of vehicles or the smartest of moves!
I decided it would be more comfortable on the beach and sold the car, burying my possessions in Goring Gap woods. When it got cold, I slept by the heaters in the car park next to the bowling alley and when it got really cold, I turned to the winter night shelters. I also had a few short stays in one of Turning Tides’ hostels and although a respite, I wasn’t in a good place emotionally and it just didn’t work out – I preferred to be on my own.
For a while, I managed to hold down a few jobs and volunteer, but practically it was really difficult. Although the Turning Tides Hub was a real lifeline, it doesn’t open until 9am and so showering and eating a hot breakfast before work just wasn’t possible. I tried working night shifts but trying to sleep outdoors during the day wasn’t easy either.
When you live on the streets, you just can’t see how you are going to do anything else with your life. It takes everything out of you to just survive and you lose hope of achieving anything else. Gradually, depression, despair and embarrassment took hold and as my circle of friends decreased, I had no one to turn to. For five long years, I simply survived.
Last Christmas, everything changed. Turning Tides offered me a room in Lyndhurst Road and my key worker Richard gave me incredible support as well as the space I needed to work things out myself. Having an address and my own room gave me both security and head space to start thinking about the possibility of a future.
I began a course in graphic design. I was also given the opportunity to volunteer for PACT (the Partnership and Co-production Team). PACT enables people who are supported by Turning Tides to discuss all sort of topics with staff to ensure their voice is heard throughout the whole organisation. On the run up to Christmas, I also really enjoyed volunteering at some of Turning Tides’ fundraising events.
Though I am a shy person and like to keep myself to myself, a delicious Christmas dinner with staff, residents and volunteers was really special. On the streets, the first couple of Christmases were especially hard – it really highlights your isolation and loneliness. But after that, to be honest Christmas was just like any other day – another day to survive.
Then this year, in March, everything changed again. Life at Lyndhurst Road was turned upside down by Covid and everything positive in my life stopped for a while. I was now in lockdown with lots of other people who also had their many struggles.
Volunteers had to stop visiting, some staff had to shield themselves for health reasons. It put a huge amount of pressure on the remaining staff at Turning Tides, but they were really incredible. They handled the whole situation really well having to enforce some quite radical changes, but most of the residents understood. Richard continued to check on my wellbeing and I opened up to him about my struggles.
Although most of the residents were initially quite scared of Covid, I think it might almost have been easier for street homeless men and women. We are used to long periods of boredom and hopelessness, to high levels of stress and even dealing regularly with the possibility of dying. I know of many people who have died on the streets but, fortunately, no one who has died of Covid yet.
In June, I moved into one of Turning Tides’ ‘move on’ properties. ‘Move on’ accommodation is the final step where a person is nearly ready for independent living but is still rebuilding their life. It’s so much quieter and, I am enjoying making it my home. I’m studying remotely and though not the best time to be looking for a job, I’m looking forward to being back in the workplace. I still enjoy volunteering – just recently, I walked 10 miles with the fundraising team as part of the Go the Distance Challenge! I’m also working with PACT hosting compulsory training for all staff at Turning Tides.
Like everyone, I worry about Covid. I worry more about passing it on to the elderly people living in my house than getting it myself. But for the first time in years, I am looking forward to Christmas – whether celebrating with friends or even locked down in my home –I’m actually looking forward to it.
I still feel ashamed of recounting my story but I also feel incredibly lucky to have a home in a community of people who support this charity – a charity that has helped to turn my life around. I don’t know where I’d be without them. I cannot imagine how I might have coped facing Covid, homeless and alone.