Homelessness in London Guest stories Anthony and Nicole Updated 29 October 2020 Anthony*, in his fifties, and Nicole*, in her forties, stayed in the Richmond night shelter in the winter of 2019-2020. They met each other earlier that year while they were both homeless and have been supporting each other since. After they were moved into a hotel as part of the national response to the pandemic, the council found temporary accommodation for Anthony. This had space for Nicole too and now they are staying there together. Anthony and Nicole share their stories in their own words. Anthony’s story I was born in New Zealand and moved to the UK when I was seven. After that I lived in a part of Surrey that’s now a part of Greater London, all my life until 2017. After my father died, my landlord wanted to sell the property I was living in, so he increased the rent by £250 a month, which I couldn’t afford. I ended up getting evicted. I stayed with a friend for a few months, but they ended up moving away. Then I went between sofa surfing and sleeping in my car. The practical side was difficult, I slept in the car when it was minus three degrees outside, the heating was broken so it was very cold at night. Although I was lucky to have somewhere to sleep. I tried to find a home, but the council weren’t very helpful. I’m not considered ‘high need’ enough, even for temporary accommodation. In early 2019 I went to a shelter in south London, that’s where I met Nicole. It seems like much longer since we met. Last winter, the shelters saw at least ten couples. We also supported family and friendship groups registering for shelter together Later that year we were at a day centre in Croydon, where we met someone who recommended we contact Glass Door. After that, we were offered a space in the Richmond shelter. Keith (a Glass Door shelter manager) was brilliant. He was there on our first night, and he ran us through how the shelters worked. We would go to the Vineyard Centre every day. The Vineyard was a life-saver. On the streets it was cold so the opportunity to get warm and something to eat was fantastic. It was great to have everything all together: showers, food and someone to get advice from. Homeless in a global crisis The practical sides of being homeless are really difficult. We always had lots to carry. Trolleys and cases went everywhere with us. When the virus took off everything was closing and the Vineyard had to close too. Every safe haven, libraries, leisure centres, even McDonalds. There was nowhere to go. The week prior to going into the hotels there was nowhere to shower. That week was difficult. The transition to staying in the hotels was significant. You no longer have to carry everything around with you. I’ve been able to take my laptop out of storage. I can have my own space now. We even have our own private bathrooms. When you’re homeless you’re always having to go somewhere People may have a perception that everyone who is homeless is on drugs, or they have put themselves on the street. It is something that can happen to anyone, given the circumstances. I still have to get on with everyday life. My uncle is ill and undergoing chemotherapy, and I still have to go and look after him. It’s easy to look down on and dismiss people but getting out of homelessness is not as simple as finding a job. The practical difficulties have not been overstated – the hygiene, the cold: it’s something you can’t escape from. Nicole’s story I was born in the Philippines and moved to the UK with my husband. He has a heart condition, so I was also a carer for him. We lived together with his mother. They would argue all the time and she would become angry and blame me for it. They became more and more abusive towards me until they forced me to leave. Now he has a new girlfriend, and we are legally separated. We used to go to church together, but they took his side in the situation. I used to cry everywhere I went. I felt so much trauma from the whole experience. I feel so betrayed, I don’t understand what I have done to deserve this – I’m a good person, and I care about people. Finding a new community I found a space in a night shelter in south London, where I met Anthony. Anthony has saved my life. I finally feel supported. Without him I don’t know what would have happened to me. When we went to the Vineyard and met with Lewis (a Glass Door caseworker), I felt the opposite from how I felt before. They are giving everything they can to us and trying to help. [Lewis is currently working on resolving a case with Nicole and the Home Office.] Glass Door are on my side. Lewis is fighting for me. I can’t discuss this with my family because they’re on the other side of the world, and they’re upset about this too. With Glass Door I speak from the heart, and I feel like I express myself. I’m no longer a robot. The hotel is a very big help. I’m away from anyone who can hurt me. It has given me some strength, somewhere to think. I have the time and space to reflect on my past. Life during lockdown Nicole: I finally get to relax, I can enjoy normal things like sitting down and watching Merlin on TV. I’m helping myself to move on and move upwards. Anthony: I’m keeping myself very busy, I’m composing songs on my guitar and thinking about learning German because I love classical music. I would love to put my music out there. Nicole and I see each other every day, but having different rooms is better really because we have so much stuff. It’s all we know. The future is uncertain at the moment. The Government don’t know when all this is going to end so we don’t either. We are just grateful to have somewhere to stay for now. New beginnings Thanks to the influx of support that came with the pandemic, the council where Anthony had been living changed their original decision; to the couple's relief, they recognised their duty to help with housing. Originally, the council placed Maria and Anthony in another hotel which acted as a staging post. "By some coincidence, the hotel was the same one I stayed in when I was looking for a place before I became homeless," says Anthony. "I had some money then but it didn't last too long. So I've gone full circle in two years!" Now they've been moved into a studio flat outside London. Anthony is still focused on making sure problems with his online Universal Credit account are sorted, and the couple are still settling in. Anthony says: The staff at Glass Door could not have done more to help us. *Names have been changed and certain details like specific areas and dates have been omitted to protect identities. All other details of these stories are true. 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