Homeless. Please help
My name is Shaun Ashley and I’m a current resident at the YMCA hostel in Hornsey. I know from personal experience there’s a huge problem with the current housing situation, which means there are too many homeless.
Even the process of getting into a hostel is difficult and I’m going to tell you how I went from a flat, to a friend’s sofa, to the street, before getting a roof over my head.
My journey to Hornsey YMCA started over a year ago in North West London, Neasden, with me facing eviction from my flat in two months time. I contacted my local Citizen’s Advice bureau, and they informed me I had to go to the Council’s housing department.
However a chat with a housing specialist there soon confirmed I was in a real ‘Catch 22′ situation – because I had part-time work the council could not help me, but because it was low income work I could not afford a private rental.
I was working as a retail assistant at Wembley and Emirates stadiums, and also eligible for benefit. Yet there were few private landlords accepting housing benefit.
I carried on looking for accommodation, but found nothing. Eviction date came and I ended up at friends’ houses, but I knew I could not be sofa surfing forever. I had already self-referred to my local homeless organisation, Cricklewood Homeless Shelter, and got myself on their waiting list, and they sent someone to come and visit me to confirm my situation.
But as they have no shelter at all in that area, I was shipped out to Farringdon.
You have to sleep on the street before they’ll let you in a shelter
The Farringdon shelter is called ‘Second Night Out’. To qualify for residence you have to sleep rough for at least a night, though in reality it is a lot longer.
Someone from the council needs to then come and find you on the streets and give you a ‘chain number’, which allows you to gain entry to Second Night Out. If the council has not been informed of where you’re sleeping, they won’t find you or be aware of your situation.
If you have not been homeless before, this process is not common knowledge. Or if you were mentally incapable you wouldn’t necessarily know how this system works.
I myself was one week on the streets, which is a short time compared with others.
Thirty strangers in a room and your possessions locked up for safety
At ‘Second Night Out’ you have to lock your possessions in a cupboard and reside in a room with 30 strangers from all kinds of background. The shelter included people I wouldn’t normally mix with, such as drug users and prostitutes. The hygiene was vile, among other problems.
The men and women are all in the same space, though sometimes the women slept in the offices if they felt more comfortable with that.
I was supposed to be in the hostel a maximum of two weeks, yet was there about two months. While I was there I was busy doing research into which private landlords would accept me and interacting with staff to work out how the housing system works.
I had to go back to sofa surfing when I was kicked out for fighting
But before I got anywhere, I was kicked out of Second Night Out for fighting. I had tried to get fresh clothes from where they were locked away in the office and came back to find the clothes I’d been wearing before had been thrown on the floor by someone else.
The police were called and I had to leave.
I ended up back in Brent, on a friend’s sofa all over again. It was a month, with no further developments from CHC. Again I started researching myself, and going on Gumtree.
One day I phoned YMCA and they told me to come down and have an interview. I had to get there within the hour. That was a year ago.
I conclude from my experience there are just not enough shelters for homeless people in North London.
Some councils use churches for people to sleep in, but I don’t agree with that solution. Me personally, I don’t want to sleep in a religious environment and then move around with baggage day in day out, travelling first thing in the morning just to find somewhere to wash my skin. You see, the housing associations have showers for the homeless but no sleeping facilities, the church is the other way round.
It doesn’t make any sense.
A number of young people talked to us about hostel living at a workshop we ran at the Hornsey YMCA in early 2013. We are particularly grateful to Shaun for this honest insight and to Help A Capital Child for funding the training programme. Our organisation offers competitively-priced journalism training on an ongoing basis.
Homelessness in 2013 is the highest in five years and rose 6% in the last year. If you need independent advice visit shelter.org.uk/advice or call Shelter’s free helpline on 0808 800 4444.