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Just A Girl: Street Life

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Just A Girl on homelessness

I was recently involved in a social media campaign to raise awareness of what it feels like to be homeless. Being homeless is soul-destroying. On every single level. It can happen to anyone.

I know this because it happened to me.

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I wrote an article about a lady whose home was a tent in a commune underneath a railway bridge. Her bathroom the great outdoors. To try and stay positive she described this aspect of her life as being like camping…. when we both know that it’s not. It’s really, truly not.

Real bathrooms have showers, and toilets. Privacy from prying eyes and passers by. The last time I looked, none of these trappings come as standard in bushes.

Homeless living is not “like camping”. Mostly its pretty shit. You are cold, you are tired, you are hungry….you are scared. And at the end of it, you don’t get to pack it all away into your car and drive back to your nice warm house. Because without intervention, there is no end. And there is no house.

I wasn’t the stereotypical homeless person that you often read about, jobless, rootless… addicted to drugs or alcohol. I had a job and a flat and a husband. I became single then I became homeless and then I became addicted.

Of course the definition of “homeless” means you don’t have a home. But being homeless is also a state of mind. It’s overwhelming, it’s debilitating. It can leave you open to exploitation and manipulation from some not very nice people.  It’s a dangerous way to live and a dangerous state of mind to be in.

I’m a pretty girl. I’ve always turned heads. Being vulnerable and pretty is not a winning combination, especially when you find yourself vulnerable, pretty and alcohol dependant.

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Because I needed an escape. My life was in tatters. I couldn’t deal with the fall-out. So I drank.

A lot.

Until I was unconcious mainly.

Which meant that bad things happened that dragged me down further. I met bad people. Had some nasty encounters. Got hurt.

I got into a relationship with another alcoholic. A violent, paranoid, aggressive nasty man who had been watching me from the sidelines. Choosing his moment to play the knight in shining armour card. Letting me think he was a nice guy.

I played right into his hands.

He was mentally and physically abusive. He liked to torment me, knowing that I was by this point reliant on him. He took what was left of my head and smashed it to smithereens. Which made me drink more.

He stole my mobile phone. He threw my things down the stairs then dragged me upstairs by my neck when I tried to go after them.

I left him one morning after staying awake all night to make sure that his dressing gown cord didn’t go round my neck.

I waited until his back was turned. I grabbed my handbag and I ran.

A  friend of mine, an elderly man that I barely knew, offered me his sofa. It was a gamble but it was pretty much all that I had. So I took up the offer. And moved in with a stranger.

By now I was an alcoholic, emaciated wreck. I looked horrendous. I was hiding from a psychopath. I couldn’t ever relax so I was constantly tired. I was constantly scared and my personal hygiene had gone to the dogs.  I had the option to shower. I was just too afraid to. I couldn’t bear the thought of being naked in a strange mans house, even though he had never laid a finger on me, and there was a lock on the bathroom door. It just made me feel exposed and even more vulnerable than I already was. So I didn’t do it. My clothes were my armour. So I kept them on. All of them. Constantly.

I remember taking off my boots and my feet were black. Hardly suprising really. They’d been on for ten days straight. I barely gave two shits….I just wiped off the worst and I put them back on.

homelessness

I was incredibly ill by now. Both mentally and physically.  But I was still managing to engage with professionals. I went to my meetings religiously once a week. They provided me with structure and I always drank less on those days as I wanted to be focussed. It paid off. It was obvious to everyone around me by now that I didn’t want the life that I had. I was drinking myself to death. They knew it. I knew it. So we took drastic action.

I was admitted to detox.

I was lucky. I got professional help and I managed to tackle my addiction. I have a new life and a  job and a safe place to live now. Things are looking up for me. But I’m not the happy, carefree woman that I once was. I never will be her again because something that deep-rooted and detrimental to both body and mind is bound to leave scars.

In a radio interview about homelessness I gave recently, I talked about “needing to make a homeless person feel that he or she is the most important man / woman in the world.” There are often huge trust issues. Breaking down barriers takes time. But if we have the right approach and we deliver our promises, then we can get homeless people off streets.

And we can. It’s not an impossible ask. It’s perfectly possible. I’ve always been passionate about working to end homelessness. I used to be a drug and alcohol support worker. I was good at my job. I worked with homeless people every day… so I know what I’m talking about.

Even more so now that I have first-hand experience.

Baby steps.

15 months ago I was addicted to alcohol and living on a sofa. I slept in everything I owned, every night. Now I am in my bedroom, safe, warm and happy, writing this article for my magazine column.

Living proof that baby steps work.

Just A Girl is our mental health columnist. Find her on Twitter

The following organisations like Shelter, Centrepoint, The Big Issue Foundation, St Mungos and St Petrocs all work tirelessly behind the scenes to help put homeless people back together again. All just a Google away

So if you can help, and you feel moved to, please get involved

Spotlight on: Julia Cameron De Villiers

5 steps to free your mind

Just A Girl: Emotional flooding

Ivory MagazineJust A Girl: Street Life

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