There was frost on my blanket but the help in York changed my life

Joe suddenly found himself homeless. But he found help, and now has a message for others.

I was living back home with my parents, after having had my own place and started my own business.

I had a family bereavement, which was a massive influence. My parents did not support the lifestyle I had got myself into and I was very dedicated to my business. They said ‘pack your bags or get a real job’. I chose to pack my bags and I went to the council and they sent me towards the Salvation Army and they referred me to Arc Light, a homelessness centre. They’ve an outstanding team there. I arrived clueless but what they do is amazing. A lot of people are sceptical, but the Salvation Army team are outstanding.

I spent three months at Arc Light on their crash pad, a room of 10 or 12 camp beds where you can sleep for the night if you need to.

Arc Light has a stigma and it’s not perfect, it has flaws. But overall it taught me a lot and saved me a lot of hassle and it has given me so much insight into how things work. I would not be here now without it. I spent three months there. It was not uncomfortable but I was used to my independence and my own path and I was thrust into this.

I met with someone from Restore [a local housing project for homeless people] and got a room through them. Then I was in prison for dangerous driving for a little while, then I came back to Restore. They review your character and look at what’s on paper and say where you might fit.

The message I would give to people is, do not have any fear. When I did not know where to go, I had a perception that was false. I had heard the negatives about some of the places but having experienced what it is, I see the value. As long as you are willing to take stuff in and learn, there is nothing to fear. People have too much fear. Yes, it’s good to be guarded – but there’s a lot of help out there. At Arc Light, there are people you can crash out with and there are people to help you, and the staff have access to all the services you could need. It’s very under-rated.

None of us expect these situations. People have their ideas, but you can never judge. So I say to people don’t have any fear; it will hold you back and stop you getting where you need to be.

Some people do need more help than they’re willing to accept. Some are willing to do more straight away. I’m someone who knows my needs and I’m trying to get my life sorted but I have had to turn to Restore more than I expected and there are times I have thought ‘how will I get around this or that’. But Restore have done a lot. They set me up with a business mentor and I’m looking at a new business idea around advertising that ties back in with my first business.

At Restore, if there is something they see they could help you with, they give you that option and help set things up. I have not come across anywhere with that kind of set up before. It’s like having a friend or a mentor really. Anne, one of the staff here, says to me ‘don’t win the battle to lose the war’ and I have started living by that, and now a friend and I say that to each other all the time.

I don’t think politicians and the media care enough to address the nitty-gritty issues, but the nitty-gritty issues can transform into massive ones. The sort of support Restore give in York may not be available in other places, I don’t know, and if I had been somewhere else there’s a chance I would now be sleeping rough, because I did do that. I thought ‘I don’t want to do this’ but it was that or nothing.

You wake up with frost on your blanket and think ‘what has life come to?’ If I pass someone in that situation now I will buy them some food or drink because I know that will last them even a few hours. If my friend had not taken me to the council, and if I had not wandered to knock on the door at the Salvation Army and then Arc Light, I might well have been slumming it now. There are a lot of people in that situation who do not get help or do not know what help is there. If it was not for the options here in York I could well still be out there.

The Job Centre is difficult as well. When you go there as a homeless person, they do not see you with the credibility of someone who had a job and who has been made redundant; they see you as someone who will lie. The system needs addressing. The staff say your case is with a decision maker and wash their hands of it, and these ‘decision makers’ decide whether you will have money to live on, based on whether in their view you deserve it. It’s biased.

Once you have spent a month with Restore it’s quite comfortable. There’s no pressure or rush to turn you out. Other places in the country should look at this and see how it happens. I’m in a shared house and you get to a point where you help to support each other, maybe without even realising it.

Too often, people do not consider the personal side of life in homeless places. You get people who don’t want to deal with complex issues and are easy-going, friendly folk. Nobody considers that, but people have an experience that others should embrace. I have this attitude now that I am progressing. If I had been successful in my business first time around I would never have known how much support there is. Sometimes, a bit of gritty reality is needed.

So people should have no fear, and no set perception of things. Don’t have presumptions about anybody. I have had my own business, and I have been homeless, I’m an ex-convict and I’m now setting up on my own again. I would not have seen myself as someone who would have needed Restore, but it has helped make life-affirming changes. On your first night homeless, you think ‘how has it come to this?’. Nothing prepares you for it, but you just have to grit your teeth and get on. Nobody appreciates how much you have to dig deep within yourself.

  • The image at the top of this article is a stock photo from Pixabay

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