A story of hope from 2020

A story of hope from 2020

My name is Sam and 2020 has been a very strange year for me. I know I’m not alone in experiencing unexpected hardship when lockdown changed everything. There have been real lows and some really good experiences, I know it’s a cliché, but ‘rollercoaster’ is probably the best way to sum it up.

So, did Lockdown make me homeless? With this being a letter from SPEAR, that’s probably what you think right? Well no, not exactly – that happened years ago when I had a ‘relationship breakdown’. Not with my partner – no, this hurt far worse. It was with my family, when I found that I had to leave and look after myself – I was only 16.

Would you have seen me as homeless? Some people thought I did ok. After all I didn’t end up on the street, so most people didn’t see me as homeless. I was able to support myself by getting jobs and yes – I had a roof over my head, but I was definitely homeless. I was doing what you call ‘sofa surfing’, moving from friend to friend, staying for a bit, then moving on when you know that you really are starting to get in the way. I had no space to call my own, no place to call home and never any idea how long I could stay.

Everybody deserves a place to call home, don’t they?

But physically I was ok, after all not on the street; but in my head, a different story – confused and on my own. I know now that it was depression, not really understanding why I’d been rejected. Why couldn’t I be like other 16-year olds and live with my family? Without somewhere of my own I just couldn’t get past it.

So how long? Well I’m 22 this year. Six years and no change – still working, still travelling from sofa to sofa. Then came March 16th 2020: Lockdown. Social Distancing. Not really compatible with being an extra body in a small flat is it? So, six years after becoming homeless I actually became what people think of as homeless, you know sleeping rough on the streets.

This suddenly felt very real and kind of unreal at the same time. I couldn’t even spend time at work, as working in the service industry meant I’d lost my job as well. No place to live, no money and no place to go. I know it seems a lifetime ago, but if you can remember that first week of lockdown all you could hear was “Stay at Home to Save Lives”. Well, how could I? You couldn’t even ask for help, as the streets were deserted. This really was my lowest moment. You have no idea how scary it was out in the open and I just felt I was sure to catch Covid.

 Without being able to look after myself properly, would I be able to survive it?

What some call an Outreach Shift, I call a lifesaver. Just imagine it, going to sleep in a dark corner after several nights of doing the same, no hope that anything would change. Imagine my surprise when being woken up in the middle of the night by some stranger saying that she could get me somewhere to stay.

I can’t exaggerate how amazing it was meeting Jo, a SPEAR Outreach Worker, while I was huddled asleep out of sight in Richmond. I don’t know what would have happened if I’d not been found. How did Jo know where I was?

 Perhaps someone saw me and told SPEAR? if that was you, thanks for reaching out.

A place to call my own. Jo told me the good news, SPEAR was out and about in SW London getting everyone in.  Everyone who was homeless on the street was being given a place to live. This time social distancing was on my side. After six years of being on someone else’s sofa or floor I could be by myself, – which was great until the door closed behind me. Four walls of a hotel room and just the TV for company. Off the streets, but definitely still homeless.

So, three months of solitude? It could have been like that, but SPEAR not only helped me to isolate; they also mean what they say about homelessness to independence. They made sure I had the basics – enough food and toiletries. Volunteers would give me a call once a week, a chance to have a chat to someone other than myself. Their health team made sure I was signed up with a doctor, so that if anything happened I could get help.  But it wasn’t just my physical health they took care of. They used this time to help me start looking at what had started all this and really work through things and deal with my feelings.

Moving On. It wasn’t too long before they found me somewhere more stable to live, but that wasn’t the end.  They kept working with me, giving me cooking lessons, helping me look for jobs, and even music workshops. It was so good to do something for fun – to be treated as a person, with my own hobbies, hopes and ambitions. They’ve now given me a laptop and are starting me on online courses. After six years of barely getting by, I now have something I thought I’d lost – hope and a future. SPEAR have given me back my dignity.

Thank you SPEAR supporters. I know from talking to SPEAR, this has been the busiest year they’ve ever had. They’ve not only helped me but they’ve supported more people than ever. With lockdown there was so much we needed, but you have come through for SPEAR, again and again. You really changed my life.

As my story ends somebody else’s is beginning.  As I said at the start, a ‘rollercoaster’ year but ending in a good place. However, looking at the news of job losses and evictions starting up, I know that other people’s stories are just starting. If you can help SPEAR you really will change people’s lives for the better.