People often think that when a person becomes homeless it is due to one major traumatic event, but this is not always the case. For me it took between seven and eight years from the initial break-up of a long-term relationship to what would be considered homeless. After a less than acrimonious split from my wife and family I kept myself busy by moving from London to work on farms and small holdings in Lincolnshire and Cambridge. This lifestyle suited me and it wasn’t long before I was travelling around the country looking for work.
What was easy to begin with became harder as the economy took a dip so I switched to hospitality, working in kitchens and taking on maintenance jobs. I worked my way down to Devon where I lived on the beach in the summer hiring out boats and working as a caretaker at an hotel during the winter months. Although I didn’t have a permanent residence I still didn’t considered myself as homeless. It was only when I damaged my shoulder in a climbing accident, leaving me unable to work, that I had to go back to London with nowhere to live. I soon spent what little money I had saved, and even though I managed to get cash in hand work doing cleaning, the rent and deposits required by most landlords meant it was impossible for me to make ends meet. After living in a succession of filthy hostels, sometimes sharing a room with five other people, I decided it was cheaper and more dignified to go and live in Hyde Park.
I was no stranger to living outdoors and as I was still being paid cash in hand, I thought I would have a good chance of eventually escaping London. The economy continued to slide and it became increasingly competitive to find cash in hand work. My plan to get out of London quickly resulted in me living in Hyde Park for 18 months. Every morning I packed up my kit and every evening I laid it out. I learned to keep a low profile and became virtually invisible. As the money dried up I found places where I could get breakfasts and dinners, I found out where the food runs were happening, where I could get help for foot problems, and where I could get my hair cut. In short, I learned to survive alone with nothing but a little help here and there. During that time I didn’t do too badly, I have always considered myself resilient, but after 18 months even the hardest of individuals can be worn down. When I realised fully that there was no way out and no end to the situation I was in, things really started to affect me.
One day, following a particularly heavy overnight downpour, I let my guard down and was discovered by the park Police after I slept late. I was fortunate that the man who found me was sympathetic. He kept an eye on me and would bring me tea each morning, before one morning asking me if I had ever heard of Emmaus. After a quick visit to the local drop-in centre I searched the Internet and within a few days I had been accepted into the Emmaus Gloucestershire community. I have been in and around Emmaus communities for quite some years now and this year I was invited to the French Embassy for the 25th Anniversary of Emmaus in the UK. The French Embassy is situated right next to Hyde Park, so I took great pleasure in informing the assembled guests that several years prior to the event I had been homeless and I had lived in the park for a year and a half. They had probably been my nearest neighbours, yet here I was shaking hands with the Duchess of Cornwall at the French Embassy.
I suppose the moral of the story is that there is hope for all of us… with the right help.