B – Homeless & Alone in London, Part 2
The week after first speaking with B, I meet up with her to see how she’s getting on. We chat and I say I’ve written an article about her and that people have been saddened and shocked by what’s happened to her. She smiles. I ask whether she minds me telling her story, whether she’s afraid of her ex seeing it. She says no, she wants as many people to see it as possible, to see what can happen to victims of violence. I ask if I can ask her some questions and record our conversation. She says OK…
Compo: So, I met you last week… How’ve you been doing since then?
B: Right, I met a lady called Felicity. She’s got rooms in XX. She’s told me, if I can get £28, then that’s a week’s rent and she’s going to try and phone around places to get me in permanently. But obviously I can’t get the money, because I’ve been here four days now and for the last four days people have just ignored me. The police have been coming up, telling me to move on, and I got arrested the other night, they kept me in for four hours…
C: What for, vagrancy?
B: Begging, yeah…So I’m not having a very good time, and I had two boys rob me. I had money in a hat, I fell asleep, I had about five pound, they took the money out my hat, I woke up and I actually caught them, I went to grab one of the boys and he said, ‘Oh you’re touching me, I’m gonna get you arrested for assault!’ and he just ran off with my money… But that boy you’ve just seen now, he’s been hanging around with me, looking after me, making sure I’m OK and that, but he’s going to prison in a couple of days, so obviously I’m going to be on my own again.
C: What for?
B: He assaulted somebody. A pregnant girl got kicked in the stomach, and obviously he protected the pregnant girl, but now he’s the one that’s getting arrested with an assault and the other guy hasn’t even been charged.
C: Who was the other guy?
B: Just another homeless guy, an alcoholic… They were sitting down in the park, having a drink, and one of the other guys kicked the girl in the stomach, and she’s like six months pregnant, and she was bleeding, so she showed this boy the blood, and he just went off his head and he just started beating the other guy, but he’s the one that’s been arrested and the other guy hasn’t even been charged, so he’s gonna go to prison, so then I’m gonna be on my own again, so that’s what I want to get the money to get in this hostel, cos when I’m settled for a week at least then I can ring around different places, I can claim benefits, I can get myself sorted out a little bit more, do you know what I mean, at least then I won’t have to beg.
C: Why’s that? Why’s it easier if you’re settled somewhere?
B: Because then I’ll be able to clean myself every day, I’ll be able to put my head down somewhere every night, do you know what I mean, I won’t have to come out begging because I’ll be able to sit indoors, watch and just relax. Not having to walk round the streets all day, walk around all night trying to find somewhere to sleep. So it’ll be better for me. Plus, when I’m in somewhere, the place is like a ‘care of address’, so then I’ll be able to claim benefits. Within two weeks I’ll be able to start getting my benefits, you know, and within that time I can ring around different hostels, different placements to see if I can find somewhere permanently, so it will be better for me… It’s just getting really hard out here, seriously, it’s really hard. Everyone just ignores you. They look at you and just walk past you like you don’t really exist (laughs), so…
C: What about signing on?…
B: I went to the job centre yesterday and they said without an address they can’t do anything, because there isn’t any way for them to contact me, there isn’t anywhere for them to send correspondence letters or for me to be able to collect money or to collect a claim, because they don’t do counter-payments anymore, and they’ve stopped doing Crisis Loans, they’ve stopped doing Carers Allowance Grants and things like that, and the lady said, ‘go to the Citzen’s Advice Bureau’. I went there and the lady there said, ‘oh, you need to go and see your solicitor,’ so I went to a solicitors who said, ‘oh no, you go back to the Citizen’s Advice Bureau… So all day yesterday I was walking round, running around in five different places trying to find somewhere.
C: So you’re being pretty active about getting out of the situation that you’re in…
B: Yeah look, I’ve been phoning, every single day I’ve been phoning so many different places, yeah (shows me her phone and scrolls through her recent calls), I’ve been phoning Teen Challenge, Teen Challenge, Orlando Key Worth Street number, Teen Challenge, Teen Challenge, that number again, this is what – I’ve been doing this everyday, look - Teen Challenge, Teen Challenge, Sam Poles Grove – that’s a refuge – other numbers, look, Teen challenge, Kerry, these are like social workers, hostels, and they’re telling me they haven’t got any placements, ‘you have to be homeless for six months before we consider giving you a ‘Chain Number’, but you can see, every single day I’m not just sitting here doing nothing, I am actually ringing places trying to get myself in somewhere…
C: Yeah. I can see that.
B: But it’s really hard at the moment, it’s actually impossible. This lady, Felicity, she said, ’At least you’ll be in somewhere for a week, and you’ll be able to get a little bit settled. It’s not a big room, you’ll have to share the bathroom and the kitchen, obviously,’ she said. But at least I can go back there at night, lock the door and it will be my place, you know, somewhere where I can feel safe, you know… You’ve seen for yourself how many people are on the streets, you know London has got so bad for homelessness, it’s near on impossible to get in somewhere.
C: What about the women-only hostels?
B: No. You have to pay for everything now. Because of Boris Johnson, he’s changed everything, you know. Homelessness now in London is really high, it’s just ridiculous. It’s crazy, and it’s not going to get sorted out…
C: But for you right now, you just need to worry about day-to-day.
C: So you need to get, what is it, twenty-eight pounds?
B: Yeah, and then I can go there.
C: And how much do you get a day, roughly?
B: Do you want me to honest? Today, I’ve made about two pounds in about five hours. And I went and got myself a sandwich. I haven’t got a penny, look (pats pockets), not one pence. People just ignore me. And now with the trouble with the police as well, you know, if the police see me sitting here it’s like, ‘Right, you move on, we’ll give you ten minutes, if you’re still here when we come back you’re gonna be arrested or held in the cells for the night.’
C: You’re sleeping near to here, aren’t you, so you don’t want to go too far at night…
B: No. But it takes about fifteen minutes on the bus to get to XX, you know, so it’s not that bad. Plus my sleeping bag’s been stolen, so I’ve been sleeping with just this (points to rag), and like at three/four o’clock in the morning it’s getting cold, during the day it’s boiling, but at night it’s starting to get cold.
C: Last week I asked you about your friends and family, and you said you were adopted…
C: And I didn’t really ask but afterwards I thought, ‘Well, why don’t you, even though you’re adopted, can’t you go and ask your family?
B: I’ve asked them for help, I’ve asked everybody for help… Cos they’re in XXXX (a place not far from where we’re sitting) and I went there and I asked them for help, and you know what they turned round and they says to me?… ‘Once you come out of the care system, they are no longer obliged to help you any more. Because I’m not their daughter, I’m not their problem. So they’re not willing to help me. They said, like, they’ve got their own children, they’ve got their own problems…
C: And how long were you with them?
B: Four years. That was the most time I was with them. Most of the time I was in Care Homes: One for a couple of months, then getting moved somewhere else to somewhere else… I think I was in, like, sixty-four Care Homes in two years…
C: So, that’s pretty harsh…
B: (Nods) Mmm…
C: I mean, what did you feel when they told you that?
B: When they turned me away, I was like, ‘What, you take someone into your care for four years and then just turn them away because they’re homeless now?’ And I said, ‘What, haven’t you got a heart?’ And she said, ‘Well obviously I have, but I’ve got my own children, I’ve got my own problems.’ She said, ‘I’m no longer willing to help you,’ and I just cried. I cried, because I classed her as my mum, you know, and… it did hurt, just to be turned away and not wanted. Because I haven’t got any family, I haven’t got any friends… Like, I’m on the street on my own, do you know what I mean… It does get hard, you know, I do get depressed… And I sit here everyday and I think, ‘This isn’t a life, sitting here and asking people for money everyday, it’s not a life. You know, there’s got to be more to life than this. I mean, I’m twenty-six years old, I’m still young, you know, I’ve got my whole life ahead of me. This isn’t a life at all. It’s an existence: waking up everyday, thinking how you’re gonna get money, how you’re gonna survive, where you’re gonna go today to eat, how you’re gonna shower, how you’re gonna clean, where you’re gonna sleep, you know, it’s just an everyday thing. To be honest with you, I HATE it. I hate sitting here asking people for money, it’s degrading. It really is degrading. Especially when people look at you and go, ‘NO’, or, ‘Sorry’, or ‘Get a job, you tramp’, you know, and you think to yourself, ‘Anybody could become homeless, it can happen to anyone.’ But people just don’t see it like that, you know. They see me sitting here and they go, ‘Oh, well, she must be a heroin addict’, or, ‘She must be an alcoholic to be sleeping here on the streets. But because you’re on the streets, doesn’t mean that’s the situation, you know… It can literally happen to anyone. All it takes is for someone to lose their job, not be able to pay their mortgage, and then, boom, they’re homeless themselves… You know, that’s all it takes… I had everything and I lost it all because of violence. Now, I don’t want to be here. I don’t think anyone that’s homeless actually WANTS to be homeless.
C: And the violence, that was your ex, was it?
C: What happened to him?
B: He was arrested for GBH, he got two years in prison.
C: When was that?
B: This was like three years ago. And then when he got released, then he promised me, ‘I would never do it again’, and ‘I’d never hurt you again’, and I lived with him for, like, another year, and for the first six months it was fine, he didn’t lay a finger on me, but then he started drinking again, really heavy, and every day. I didn’t even have to talk, you know, I’d get a punch in the head, or I’d get beaten… Most of my friends are boys and he used to accuse me every day of sleeping with my friends, and not being in a proper relationship with him, you know, and he used to say to me, ‘You told me you love me but I know you really don’t!’ And I used to get, just, beatings… every single day. He used to hold me down sometimes and kick me in the head, you know, pull knives on me, put cigarettes out on my arms. It was just every day, and I got him arrested soooo many times, and then every time he got released he’d come back, you know, he’d beat me again for getting him arrested, it was just like a vicious circle… And in the end I was so frightened of getting him arrested, because each time I got him arrested the beatings got worse and worse, because he was like, ‘It’s your fault I’ve been arrested’, you know, ‘You deserve this.’ So he’d beat me worse, because I had him arrested in the first place. You know, it just went round and round in circles, it was just, it was really bad… And I didn’t want to live like that. I shouldn’t be in a relationship where I’m frightened even to speak. You know, you can’t say you love somebody if you hurt them that much… Every day he was telling me he loves me, but, if you love somebody that much, you don’t beat them and hurt that bad… It was really bad… He was like, ‘I really love you, I really want to be with you’, and then he’d beat me, like, and I’d be going out with black eyes, broken nose, he even dislocated my jaw twice, I had to have my whole jaw wired, he dislocated my jaw…
At this point a woman comes up and offers B some boxed-up food from a local restaurant where she works and says it’s still hot if B wants it. B smiles enthusiastically, accepts it gratefully and then says, almost to herself, “There are some nice people about…”
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