Emmanuel is a man I have got to know through my work with the homeless charity, West London Mission. This is his experience of being homeless.
“I came from the Ivory Coast, fleeing the civil war. I just wanted anywhere safe, anywhere. It is not like I chose to come here. When I first came to the West London Mission in I was in a very, very bad situation: not sleeping, I had no food and had not washed.
Before I came to London, I was in Birmingham waiting for the decision of the home office to give me leave to remain here. When that came they also sent me a letter saying that I had to leave my accommodation. So I came to London in December. After a week sleeping in Victoria Station I found internet café where I could look for help. I took down the addresses of some day centres.
At the Mission day centre they registered me. I waited for a bit for someone to talk to me, and then they told me everything they could give me like food, laundry, luggage storage and the job club. They also talked to me about getting benefits. They told me about churches’ night shelters that open their doors for rough sleepers. It is a different church every night.
Now I am outside again. The wind and rain are the worst. The spaces to sleep in are often unhygienic. Really, I don’t sleep much. It’s scary. Someone can always take your things, so you have to be careful. Accessing benefits is very slow, but you can’t really do anything to get accommodation without benefits. I have no idea how long it will take. People say that you have to sleep outside for six months before things start to change. I have a right to education, housing and benefits. But I am not getting these things, so my rights are no use to me.
Sometimes I feel very down. I have too much depression, and too many thoughts in my head. I come here every day for the showers and the laundry, the food and the luggage. I get help with filling in paperwork and get some advice on getting accommodation.
My case worker has been very helpful to me in sorting things out. I would like to say thank you to her. Since I met her there have been a lot of changes. The problem is just about getting a beginning — somewhere to stay. Then I can move on to a job and begin to sort out my life. I want to work. If people know you are homeless, then they just will not hire you. I am trying to get a job, but it is very hard.”
Jon Kuhrt works with people affected by homelessness, offending and chronic addictions at the West London Mission. Find out more about their work at www.wlm.org.uk