Tottenham: when I needed help

Gabor sees the rich-poor divide in London every day. Working at a garden centre, he sees wealthy customers coming and going. Then at the end of the day, he returns to the church building in Tottenham that is home for almost 50 men.

“Every day I can see the huge difference,” he says. “There the richest people with the Bentleys, Rolls Royces and Jaguars. Then I come home to here and my friends. Everybody fights for money, but there is something wrong, I feel. It’s not a fair world, really.”

It’s not a fair world, really.

We’re in north London for our Voices From The Margins project. We’ve been invited to Highway House, a remarkable place in Fountayne Road in Tottenham, where those with nowhere else to turn can find help.

In 2009, Highway of Holiness Church decided to use its upstairs rooms to help people who had been sleeping rough nearby, and church members dug deep to fund the work. In the eight years since, it has helped more than 750 people, and there are typically 50 here at any given time, the organisation’s website says.

An independent assessment of the project last year, reported in The Guardian, found that for every £1 that goes into the project, £5 to £8 is returned to society. “Highway House caters for one of the most marginalised groups within the homeless population,” said the report.

This week, five of the current residents at Highway House agreed to talk to us. We asked how they felt about society today, the upcoming election, what they would like the candidates to talk about, what would make life in Tottenham better, and what message they would like to send the new Government.

Gabor kicks us off. He moved from Hungary to the UK in 2008 and worked in Ikea, but returned to Hungary when he lost that job during the economic collapse.

He moved to London again in 2011 and says he was content for three years until he lost a job, was unable to afford his rent, and became homeless.

“My family went back to Hungary but I stayed here to do the best I can. But it is not satisfactory. The pastor here helped me so I am not rough sleeping on the streets. I have got a job now, so I think I can return to normal life.”

Gabor says his ex-employers were fair and says he feels responsible for some mistakes, such as using a payday lender, but he says the Job Centre did not help enough when he sought an immediate return to work, and the Government should do more.

“I have paid a lot of tax and National Insurance in the last few years in this country, and when I needed help I could not get real help…

“If the Government could be helpful with this church it would be very nice and they could create a lot of great things, I think. This church solves the Government’s problem really. It should be appreciated.”

When I needed help I could not get real help

Marcos was working in a bakery in west London but says he lost his job after reporting a supervisor for swearing at him.

“I became very depressed and went to one of the churches for help, then came here. This place has been a real blessing for me. And this church always prays for the Government leaders and that there will be peace.”

David moved to London from Spain a year ago, in search of work and after a family death.

“I live in this church. Before that, I lived on the streets. I have no friends or family here.”

He says the temptation to steal just to eat to survive is great.

Helped by another of the group, who translates, he says: “I have looked for work but was lost and feeling confused and bad. Problems built up. It is a new battle every day here.”

It is a new battle every day here

Viorel Măruntelo moved to London from Romania in 2010 but has struggled to find lasting work.

“People need homes and jobs. There is too much homelessness and it makes too much stress.”

Marco Ferreira says: “We would like to see improvements in the lives of the people here. Sometimes, you can improve things. A lot of people are trying to get help from the Government but the door is closed. Some doors are open but some doors are closed, but I think it should be fair for everybody, no exceptions… A lot of people come here looking for help and they get help, but you should get help from the Government.

“Everyone wants somewhere to sleep, somewhere they can call home. At the moment this is my home but everyone likes a bit of space and privacy and nobody has that here.”

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