Ion was born in Romania and left at a children’s centre at the age of seven. While he had four sisters, he was the only one abandoned. “My mother said I didn’t speak for three years,” Ion recalls by way of explanation. But the manager at the centre was abusive, and Ion ran away when he was twelve. For the next thirteen years, he lived on the streets in Ramnicu Valcea.

Here, he speaks through a translator.

Q: How did you live?

I slept on park benches, building sites. People helped with food. There were lots of children living like that. It was scary for the first three years, after that not. I learned a lot on the street – writing and reading. Other homeless people helped me learn.

Q: How did you get here to London?

First I went to Italy for one year, then back home to Romania for six years, then I came here last year at the age of 26.

Q: Why did you come?

To get a better life. I arrived in November 2013 by aeroplane. From the airport I went to a tube station. I slept there for four days, and then got moved on by the police. The police sent me to West London Churches Homeless Concern

Q: What do you do in the daytime?

Boguslaw helps me with housing – I got accommodation one month ago. I’m looking for work now.  I’m looking for cleaning – not anything heavy like construction -- street cleaning, kitchen work. I need work very much. I go to the jobcentre.

Q: What are the biggest barriers to you getting a job?

I need better English. I took English classes – but the school is all writing, not enough speaking.

But the volunteers speak English to me, and I help them in the shelters--putting up tables, chairs etc.

I started English classes on 21 January, just two hours on Monday mornings. It's not enough. But now I am starting four hours of lessons, three days a week, and I will learn much more.

Q: In 5 years what would you like to be doing?

Working. I want a good life, in this country. Not back in Romania – it’s difficult; there is much poverty. [In English, he adds: “Me go back, no change life.”]

Q: Have you friends here?

Yes, from Romania. They helped with food when I came, food to eat, and money.

Q: What has it felt like to stay with us?

[In English: Very much people good people, very much help and I like. Nothing bad: everything is very good, I like very much; people help me very much. And Boguslaw helps much.]

My life has changed totally for the better, coming here.

Q: Next April, what do you hope for?

New teeth, good English, good work, a room. That would be enough.

Editor’s Note: Ion had no teeth at all when this interview took place. Boguslaw arranged for him to see a dentist as all his teeth were rotten and needed to be removed. Without teeth, he can’t talk properly, and doesn’t smile widely – though he smiles a lot nevertheless. His new teeth are due to be fitted in July. 

After staying in our shelters for two months in the winter of 2013-14, our caseworker Boguslaw helped Ion find a room in privately rented house. However, he stands the chance of losing the benefits that pay for the room if he isn’t able to secure a job within a few months. Despite the many setbacks, Ion remains positive and grateful for what seems like his first real chance in life.

Interview took place April 2014.