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28 January 2021

Scroll to end to find an update from Freddie

Freddie*, a former British army captain now in his fifties, came to Glass Door in December 2020 after sleeping rough for six months. He lost his job, home, and wife in quick succession while his children were stuck abroad due to the pandemic. He is currently staying in the Glass Door Hostels. Freddie tells his story in his own words.

Life in the army

I was born in East London, but I was adopted, so I don’t know much about my history. I joined the army when I was 18 in the early 80s. I was just an infantryman, not the SAS or anything, just a regular soldier. I wasn’t silver-spooned. I didn’t go to university, I started out as a corporal and worked my way up.

I eventually made it up to Captain. I was based over here most of the time but I also did Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan twice, Bosnia and Northern Ireland.

I loved being in the army. It was a great life. And it taught me loads, so I’m never going to complain about it, but in the end I didn’t agree with what I was doing anymore. I had changed.

The second time I went to Afghanistan I started realising 'why am I kicking down people’s doors?' I thought: ‘would I like someone kicking down my door with weapons, scaring my children?’. After spending 25 years in the army, I don’t really want to be bossed around anymore. So I decided to leave in 2004.

Loss after loss

It was just after the first lockdown, around April to May 2020, when the pandemic made me lose my job. They had to cut down on staff, and I was just a groundsman so they said ‘see you later’.

Then my wife died.

She had cancer. But she was a nurse--you think nurses and doctors will live forever, but cancer is one of those things that doesn’t discriminate.

She was the person who kept me together. Whenever I came back from serving, she was always there to talk. I was very lucky. Obviously I’m heartbroken that she’s gone, but at least I had that time with her. She’s a much better person than I was. But life deals your hand, and you have to go with what you’re dealt.

Some people go through their life and never meet their 'one', but I did.

My daughter’s a dance teacher in California, and my son’s studying engineering in Massachusetts. Our children weren’t even able to attend the funeral. It was just at the time that Trump decided nobody was allowed out, and Boris decided that nobody was allowed in.

I lost the house and I ended up on the street basically.

I’m always quite positive about things, nothing worries me. There’s always someone worse off than you. That’s how I look at things.

From the beginning of August I was sleeping on buses if I had money on my oyster card. If not it was in doorways or just literally walking all night. The loneliness was the worst part, not having anybody to really talk to. For the first two months of it, I didn’t even have a phone, so I couldn’t talk to my children.

Finding my feet

I was on the streets, and I got spoken to by the street police in the area who told me about a church in Kensington (St Cuthbert’s). I got introduced to Joseph, one of the caseworkers.

[Glass Door's caseworker Joseph put Freddie on the waiting list for a hostel place, and Glass Door then contacted Freddie on Christmas Eve when he was staying with his friend to offer him a place. Freddie moved into a Glass Door Hostel soon after.]

I have quite a big room all to myself, and all the caseworkers and staff are fantastic. I can’t thank them enough for everything they do, if you want anything you just have to ask. 

You can see that (hostel manager) Bruce is such a wonderful guy. He always asks how you’re feeling.

I spend most my time sitting in my room reading or watching YouTube. I played guitar when I was a kid and I didn’t play for years, and I thought I’d pick it up again. I’ve taught myself a few songs, I’m finding it therapeutic.

I’m applying for groundsman jobs at the moment and trying to get back on my feet. My caseworker Grace is helping me find housing. I want somewhere where my kids can come and stay with me.

Finishing what you started

Some of my items from my house are still in storage, I refused to sell them because a lot of them have memories. Plus I have no doubt that I will get back on my feet.

Because of Glass Door, I’ve had the last four weeks with a roof over my head, I get fed everyday, the team are helping me find somewhere to live. If they hadn’t come and saved me, I don’t know where I’d be right now. They have saved my life.

Everyone’s got a story, everyone’s different. I admit I used to think people on the street are alcoholics, drug addicts, not interested in trying to better themselves. But it’s not that, homelessness is just a situation.

People should take 5 minutes to speak to the person. I have met some wonderful people, some genuine, honest people.

Now even though I have a roof over my head, even when I get back on my feet, I will take time out to speak to a homeless person because that could be the difference in their day.

In the future I hope my kids can come back to the UK, so I am able to feel like a dad again. My wife and I had planned to go to Japan, so once I get my army pension I still want to go. I’ve put my name down to do a fundraising bike ride for Glass Door to try and give back a little bit. You always just go ahead one mile at a time, that's the mindset I have. If you start something you finish it no matter what.

21 May 2021 update

"Freddie" spoke to an independent researcher after he left the hostel for a report on alternative projects run by faith-based organisations. The update below is taken from the report.

[Freddie] felt a sense of community within the hostel from the staff and other residents, and also said that volunteers were on hand to help with practical things like helping people access laundry facilities.  He has kept in touch with a friend he met at the service who has also moved on. He kept busy accessing books on offer, and playing music.  

[The staff member] was fantastic, helped me a lot during my birthday in February… It’s the first time since my wife died that I smiled… At Glass Door you could just have a chat with someone. It was like a mini community.

Moving On

Move on from the Glass Door hostel has been challenging, despite the efforts of Glass Door staff. [Freddie] was offered shared accommodation in south London but felt he would rather have his own cooking facilities. He has moved to an outer London borough into what was previously student accommodation, but is now providing accommodation for people with a range of support needs on six-month renewable contracts. The accommodation is self-contained but tiny, and not suitable for the longer term.  

Here you are isolated it’s just people with alcohol and drug problems – not my thing.

[Freddie] is determined to secure employment and accommodation that is large enough to accommodate his adult children when they return from overseas.  He will live where he can secure work, but aspires to move back out of London. He is involved in the guest advisory panel for Glass Door and is keen to retain a link with the organisation he has connected with so strongly.  

*Freddie's name has been changed and a representative photo has been used to protect the identity of the guest.

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