Simon’s Story

I’m just a normal person and a year ago I had a normal life….

I had a normal life – a girlfriend, home, a social life, a decent job, money in my pocket. If someone had told me what was to come, I honestly wouldn’t have believed them. I just didn’t see it coming.

2020 will have been a terrible year for so many people. I am just one of those many but I want to share my story with you to show how easy it is to lose everything and how we all might need a bit of help at some point in our lives.

Last March marked the beginning of the worst year of my life, when within just a few short days everything just completely fell apart. I was living with my girlfriend and although it was her house after a previous divorce, over five years it had become our home. I contributed financially and worked as a self-employed construction worker, physical work on building sites, driving diggers and so on.  We both had enough money in our pockets and led a pretty good lifestyle – overseas holidays, going out for meals – I wouldn’t say that I had it all but life was good. But in March, our relationship ended. In just a few days I had the sudden realisation that our home wasn’t actually ours, but hers. Not only was I devastated about the spilt, I had absolutely nowhere to live.

At the same time, the country went into its first lockdown – a frightening time for everyone. One or two kind friends took me in over the following months, letting me sleep on their sofas and although I was very grateful for a roof, it was incredibly awkward living in their space. I was of course very thankful I had somewhere to sleep but also felt so guilty about having to be locked down with them 24/7. I couldn’t go to sleep when I wanted or needed to and felt desperate for my own space.

Worse still, work dried up and I found myself ‘sofa surfing’ without being able to contribute financially. I really wasn’t coping with this rapid change in my circumstances and I can only describe that time as feeling completely shell shocked and very afraid that this was happening to me.

Keen to give my friends their space back in their homes again and also needing my own space, I approached the local council but they told me they couldn’t help, Over the course of some months, I was passed from council to council – none of whom would help, telling me that as a single male, with long waiting lists for housing, I was of a ‘low entitlement’ to having a home . This was difficult to digest as I had never been in trouble, I had worked my entire life and it was only now into my 40’s during a pandemic, without a home or any work that I needed some help. No-one would help me.

The following three months were absolute hell. With just a few possessions, I lived out of my work van. It was often freezing, my roof leaked and so everything was damp. I gradually sold off my work tools in order to eat. If it rained, I would just sit in my van alone all day long. I spoke to no-one. In just a short time, living in a van really began to take a toll on my mental and physical health. I experienced all sorts of difficulties, most particularly with my shoulder, at one point completely unable to move it – it felt like the cold had really set into my bones.

One day the council told me about the Turning Tides’ Littlehampton Hub and it truly was a life saver. The Hub had been recently refurbished which meant that I could access a hot shower, clean my clothes, eat a hot breakfast – my only hot meal of the day and I was able to talk to and get practical and emotional advice and support from their incredible keyworkers.

At the start of the second lockdown in November, as part of the ‘Everyone In’ initiative, where rough sleepers were found a bed to protect them from Covid – I was offered a room at Butlins in Bognor Regis. It honestly felt like I had won the lottery. I had a warm bed, I was able to cook hot food everyday – something that I hadn’t been able to do in months – and my physical pains also began to heal. The keyworkers at Turning Tides made sure I had food, support and advice.

I spent a wonderful Christmas Day with my Aunty Sal – and Turning Tides provided a lovely Christmas meal for me on Boxing Day. But aside from the Turning Tides team, I saw absolutely no-one and felt very lonely.

I also felt really frustrated as I’d been used to working my entire life. But overall, I felt so incredibly grateful to be out of my van and to have a warm bed and a kitchen to cook my own hot meals during the coldest months of the year.

A few weeks ago, I moved into one of Turning Tides’ ‘move on’ houses. Being offered a more medium-term home here gives me a safety net, my own space and some time to now think about my next steps.

My future is still so uncertain and thoughts about it often consume me. I don’t even have enough money to pay my phone bill. With just a month left on my van insurance, I may well have to sell it but it is my lifeline to help me find work again and I really do want to go back to work as soon as possible. I know that finding my own home and work is not going to be easy, especially when so many others are finding themselves in the same situation.

But Turning Tides has given me that first step – somewhere warm to live and keyworkers I can turn to for advice and help. The charity really has been such a godsend. If I could rate them on an app, I would press on the five stars all day long. Without their support and those who help fund the charity, I honestly do not know where I would be right now. It honestly frightens me to think about it.

This last year my life has been like a game of Jenga with blocks falling rapidly one after the other. I never want to sleep rough or become homeless ever again. I so desperately want to go back to some sort of normal and Turning Tides is giving me that opportunity. I know my story is one of many and I’m not out of the woods yet but I am proof that becoming homeless can happen to anyone – especially now. I cannot believe it happened to me and I’ll be forever grateful to Turning Tides and all those who support them.

Please consider making an urgent donation to the ‘Crisis in our Community’ Appeal