There are many myths around individuals who are seen living on our streets, one being it’s a “lifestyle choice” along with many others which insinuate their circumstance being “self-inflicted”.
Often we can’t comprehend the reasoning around why that person as ended up in a terrible situation, or even care to be honest. Sometimes it’s easy for us to just assume it’s just how people want to live. Many of us just refuse to believe that the state which claim there is an adequate safety net to stop this happening to us, are allowing this. I myself being guilty of such thoughts, until it happened to me. From 2009 until 2014 I was trapped within a cycle of reoccurring homelessness, mental health and addiction and this is an account of what I did with my time from day to day, and more to the point the expectations from society which I was to manage. I have changed peoples names and the names of the services, temporary accommodation providers and agencies involved with me during this time.
I always remember that from day one I had absolutely no idea where to start or even who to ask for advice about my situation. It was after being told I had two weeks to remove my mother’s belongings and to vacate the property when it struck me that actually I’m homeless now.
What do I do now? Where do I go? Where will I wash? Who can help me? All these questions I asked my local authority, imagining their reply would be prompt and useful. I was wrong, so wrong. “What do you want us to do about it?” was one of the comebacks I received, “Don’t you have family or friends who can help you?” was an enquiry that would deeply irritate me due to the reason of my situation being the death of my Mother. “It must be really hard for you Mr Dale” was another empty statement uttered my way with very little meaning or potency toward my predicament. Finally, after three days deliberation they concluded that I wasn’t eligible for housing, as I was a single male. You couldn’t make up some of the things that were said in those first few days of desperation. I always thought that regardless of my own knowledge that those who work within the confines of social housing would have a plan set in concrete for when these eventualities happen to us, and we know what thought did. I must take this opportunity to revisit a part of my life where a similar thing had happened, that part of my life was my birth.
I was born in the back of a robin reliant on the way to Macclesfield hospital, which came as a surprise many years later when my own daughter was born in the back of a Ford KA on the way to the same hospital. The difference being that on my return from birth it was to temporary accommodation in the form of a caravan on a site owned by a local business owner, where we were housed by the local authority as a short-term measure, short term being seven years, and in that time my mother wrote many letters to our local MP. I suppose my scepticism and lack of faith in governance came about from then. While all my efforts were going into finding out what I must do next, all of these memories were playing out in the back of my mind. Then there was the unwanted thoughts of my Mothers deteriorating health into death and the uncertainty around whether I would have a home for my children to see their father regularly. All these things plus losing my job and my car made me now feel people wanted my dignity.
My mind was working overtime and still to this day I do not know how I got through the first couple of weeks. What I do know is that I never slept a wink for a week and I don’t think I stopped walking in that time. I suppose I was on “walk about” as the Aboriginies from Australia would call it. I did a lot of thinking in those days, reflecting over my life in search of answers to why I had ended up in this dire position. I felt ashamed and my self-worth was draining rapidly with every door that shut in my face. The idea of telling the people in my life at the time about my situation terrified me, the last thing I wanted was to become a burden on others, getting in the way of their family routines was something I wasn’t prepared to do.
I became invisible and started to avoid people and certain situations, I feel sad now writing this to think that anyone would have to do this, it just doesn’t seem rational but at the time I wasn’t thinking straight.
My G.P surgery became a break from insanity, where I managed to gain access to several types of medication which would help me to cope with it all. Of course, my G.P knew about my circumstance’s, but it seemed he was powerless to help me deal with it. I could sense his frustration and behind his professional persona I imagine policy and politics were playing a big part in that. So, he became my supplier to save me from my own mind albeit inadvertently. Another haunt of mine was the public toilet where I would wait for the shutters to open at 8.00am every morning so I could wash and feel a little normal, to be honest I became protective of this premise and angry if others abused it. Often I would hide the carrier bag with the last remnants of my life in this toilet building which was useful when I needed to attend the jobcentre, which was a four hour walk there and back. While undertaking one of these treks I would reminisce about the industries I would pass along the way. The first being the coal mine at Chatterley Whitfield which is on an iconic site revered by many of the men in my community at the time. An industry which was thought for most to be a job for life. A stark contrast when you look at the legacy it has left behind, that being the two council estates straddled either side of the border. Two places where aspirations and security are scarce. Two places where individuals feel they are disengaged from any participation or consultation regarding any decisions concerning their community well- being. The reason I would even bother walk back from these appointment’s was because my hometown was familiar to me and the thought of sleeping in the city centre was terrifying. It became normal for me to walk across the breadth of the City to attend appointments. Due to services in my area being in decline since the eighties many individuals would have to commute to the far reaches of the City for help. It is quite common for those who live in rural areas to be regarded as lazy due to their inability to attend appointments on time. At times being excluded or sanctioned for their trouble. Often relying on an underfunded public transport system which is stretched.
I went on living this way for about six months, it was as though I was in a parallel universe to everybody else.
Mingling in the day with others who didn’t know my plight and at night disappearing into the countryside where I felt safe, returning in the morning to the public toilet for my daily wash and dose of reality. This became normality to me, well as normal as normal could be I suppose. At this point I was banned from my local authority office due to them perceiving my passion as aggression, and told to use the head office which was just over nine miles away. So six months into my experience I was still getting nowhere and still unable to grieve for my mum. This was the start of my decline into poor mental health, and I began to bury my head in the sand, becoming despondent and apathetic in the process.
It was at this stage that I started to actively seek something stronger than my prescribed diazepam medication. Those who people would describe as unsavoury characters started to notice me and would often make themselves known to me while I was collecting my meds from the chemist. I was flattered to say the least, all of a sudden a group of people wanted to know me and were willing to take me into their community and lives. This group opened their doors to me and let me in when most wouldn’t and they earned my respect and loyalty by doing so. After all it was these people who were listening to me, who cried and laughed with me, who fed me and gave me a place to sleep. Most would be horrified to put themselves in that position but for me it was my only option. Suddenly I felt a part of something, I felt wanted and welcome, the things I have now learned are natural humanistic desires which we all need. Which brings me to a man called Abraham Mazlow which many professionals will refer to his hierarchy of needs. It appears to be such a shame that those who became gatekeepers in my life didn’t understand these core principles, because if they had they might have been a little more understanding. But as it was none of them did so I continued to plummet down the slope into obscurity and despair at speed. Unable to visage any pathway back to what is deemed as a fulfilling life.
It wasn’t long until I was introduced to heroin once more in my life and to be honest it didn’t take much to convince me, as I was longing for an escape from the negative cycle of thinking that I was trapped in.
I can’t blame those individuals and I never will because I was an adult who made a choice. What I can say is that I hit the heroin hard and before I knew it I had a fully blown dependence, to the extent that it took away control of the way I thought and acted. The drug became a close friend to which I sought their company constantly, experiencing separation anxiety every time it wasn’t available. Letting myself become succumb to its grip was a welcome alternative to the racing thoughts of failure and death which were plaguing me prior to its resurgence. I feel so ashamed today to think that this was what happened, but my recent mental health education as taught me that this is often the case and with no positive support was inevitable.
So let’s take a minute to reflect on what was missing in my life, for a start there was no real supportive relationships in place, I had no knowledge of what services could help, I wasn’t aware of my poor mental health and I was under the impression that any housing solutions wouldn’t apply to me, as I was being constantly told I was ineligible. No surprise that eventually I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression, which was upgraded to PTSD once a GP asked about the circumstances leading up to my homelessness. My desperation heightened in 2010 when I attempted suicide by the way of overdose, and was admitted to hospital where staff flushed my internal organs with saline solution for 48 hrs. This was an experience I will never forget and will avoid in the future. Their seemed to be a lot of negativity aimed at me from staff, I could only put this down due to my situation being self-inflicted. I just wanted to leave as soon as I could, I needed to be isolated again as being around others became increasingly difficult and terrifying.
This was the beginning of my social anxiety disorder as my thoughts were becoming self-critical and began to focus on what I thought others were thinking about me.
The doctor released me from hospital on the condition that I signed a contract stating I would attend an appointment to see a psychologist the next morning. Of course I agreed and 11 pm that night I was freed from an environment which I felt was stigmatised, so I began to walk back to my hometown yet again. I had resigned to my fate and thought there was nothing anyone could do, that was until I was arrested for a drugs possession charge which concluded with a night in custody.