Around about eighteen months ago today, I was, you could say, ‘lost’. I remember it well, shuffling out of the prison gates, shackled both ankles and wrists, to be greeted by the warm Caribbean sun and an awaiting prison van, waiting to take prisoner 39627 to the immigration holding centre where he would spend a week awaiting a spare seat on a flight to Gatwick.
Previous to spending just under three years in that hell-hole of a jail, suffering physical, mental and verbal abuse on an almost daily basis, I had lived in Spain for twenty-seven years, twelve of those living on the streets, a down and out alcoholic.
How would I cope in what for me is a strange land?
How do I get money?
Where do I find food?
Where do I sleep?
It wasn’t until I’d been back in the U.K. for a couple of weeks that the council found me a place in a Nightshelter. As I had no roots in Britain, I could have been sent anywhere. I was now surviving off what little money I had, and that was about to run out .The D.H.S.S. flatly refused to award me any benefits whatsoever, telling me to go back to Spain and try making a claim there, even though I was born and bred in Stoke-On-Trent, living there until I was twenty. I made many visits to the job centre and was told each time the same thing, I didn’t meet their residency criteria.
I moved into the Nightshelter where I received help from Liz Howe. At my first interview with her, she immediately got on the phone, making calls on my behalf and, with her knowledge, experience and persistence, I received my first backdated payment within days. I was ecstatic!
Unfortunately, I ended up homeless again, sleeping on a cardboard ‘mattress’ in a multi-storey car park. Back in the NIghtshelter again I was going nowhere fast- in circles.
It was at this time that I heard there was a vacancy coming up at ‘The Dwelling Place’ in Basingstoke. I went for my interview assessment hoping and praying I would be successful and get a room there.
I was thrilled to get a call telling me I could move in and restart living something of a normal life after so many years of homelessness, prison and both mental and physical health. Any problems, be it health, benefits, judicial, or communal or anything I don’t really understand, I know that I can go to Liz and ask for help and advice and she sorts it.
Thanks to The Dwelling Place, things are starting to turn around for me now. Instead of being that homeless drunken bum that the whole world despised and ignored, I am making friends and gaining some respect. I now try and give a little back, helping out at the charity-‘The community Furniture Project’. When I heard that Liz was setting up a winter night shelter in Basingstoke I immediately volunteered to help set up the camp beds at the Church venues each night.
Onwards and upwards