I’m a cook and I’d been looking for somewhere to volunteer when I read AA Gill’s article about the shelter. It was a couple of years ago and I was unemployed at the time but I found volunteering put a bit of structure back in my life. We have great fun in the kitchen cooking anything from fish fingers to a proper curry with all the trimmings. It’s a bit like a family, the same team meets up every week and we all pull together to make something really great for our guests.
I became homeless when the friends I’d been sofa surfing with kicked me out. I had no work, no money and now no home. I was only on the streets two nights, but believe me, two nights rough sleeping is a long, scary time. I was really frightened. I got a place at Shelter from the Storm and started a training program with a placement at Costa Coffee. It was hard work but I got taken on as a full time employee. At the shelter I can live for free, so I’ve managed to save up for a deposit and I hope to move into my own place next week. It’s not easy working while you live in a homeless shelter but it’s helped me motivate myself to move on. I will miss the delicious food and the lovely volunteers but I can’t wait to have my own space and a lie in on my day off.
I’m a retired airline pilot and I’ve lived, worked and paid taxes in the UK for more than two thirds of my adult life. When I was told my status was in question I felt I was going mad. Shelter from the Storm was the one place that accepted me without question when everyone else passed me by. It’s been a long haul, but now it’s finally over and I’m moving into my own place, words can’t express how grateful I am to Shelter from the Storm for all the care they’ve given me.
I’m 22 years old, I was born in Newham Hospital and I’ve lived in East London most of my life. I grew up as the only child in a single parent family and relations had always been a little difficult. I did pretty well at school but always felt out of step with the crowd, maybe because I was a bit of a tomboy. I get a place at University but had difficulty settling in and left this April after 2 years. Moving back in with Mum was hard. She was constantly questioning my sexuality. My family are very religious and I’d always been frightened of coming out. This Halloween things came to a head and I finally told her I was gay. She became really angry and upset and kicked me out. I tried to stay with other members of my family but she warned them not to have anything to do with me. I became very low and took an overdose. Thankfully, I immediately panicked and called an ambulance. They took me to the Royal London where I was looked after for 2 weeks. They were wonderful. When I was ready for discharge they called Shelter from the Storm and luckily they had a bed for me. It was a relief to finally be honest about who I am, but I’m still not speaking to my family. Now all I want is a decent job, I’ll do anything. I want to save up and get a pace of my own and get my life on track. Who knows, one day I may even go back to Uni and finish my studies.
It was when the shelter was in Essex Road. I wanted to pay back a bit what homeless shelters had done for me. I worked for the railways for 18 years but in 2007 I became homeless. I had a lot of problems with money; I was sofa surfing, spent a couple of weeks sleeping in the park and eventually lost my job. I nearly reached rock bottom but I got a place in a winter night shelter. I got advice from the Manna Society in Southwark and they helped me get a place of my own. Once I was settled I started doing Construction courses and getting better-paid work in the industry. This year I got a great job at Euston, back on the Railways!
I like the atmosphere at SFTS, I can use my practical skills to help and the other volunteers are great. I’ve been in the same situation as the guests and I can understand what they’re going through. Oh! And we always have a laugh!
Mable fled persecution in Uganda losing all contact with her family due to her sexuality. It’s very scary in Uganda if people discover you’re gay and I was an activist as well. In Uganda, the sentence for being homosexual is Life Imprisonment, but you also risk being attacked and badly hurt. Now I’ve been granted refugee status I would love to find a job in IT but I’d be happy working at anything. I just want my life back.
Dean is only 22 but he’s already qualified as an actor, fitness instructor and personal trainer. He moved to London from the South East after leaving a difficult family situation.
When he was forced to give up the room he’d been staying in he found himself on the streets. To make matters worse he had his bag, laptop and passport stolen while sleeping rough. However none of this stopped him from completing his training course at a gym – and being inventive: “One time, I tried to sleep at the gym and decided to hide in a cupboard until they closed”, he recalls, “but I suddenly realised the room was being used for a meeting and at the end someone opened the cupboard and discovered me and found out I was homeless.” He was expelled and kicked off the course. “But”, he smiles, “the next day I was allowed back and even got an apology!”
Dean began acting when he was 17. He misses the atmosphere of the theatre and would love to go back to it. Who does he admire as an actor? “Tom Hardy because he avoids being stereotyped and recreates himself all the time and Johnny Depp.”
Dean says that since arriving at the Shelter he has grown up a great deal and been able to take more responsibility for himself. “If I hadn’t come here, I don’t know where I’d be”, he reflects. He says it’s also changed his view of homeless people, and he believes many of his fellow guests have great potential. He’s even acted as a personal trainer for some of them. However Dean is determined to leave; “I want to take my life back”, he says. He’s hugely passionate about fitness, training and nutrition, and he spends his days looking for work. One day, he’d love to own his very own gym. While being a successful actor, of course.
John is a Cold War veteran. He served with the British army in divided Berlin in the early 1970s, which he still remembers as a great experience for a young man of 18. He was born in Guyana and came to Britain when his mother sent for him, his brother and his two sisters when he was just 12. “I didn’t know whether it would be a good move”, he says, “but it definitely broadened my horizon.” John also did a tour of Northern Ireland, where he remembers being “slagged off as a black man.” He says he joined the forces as a way of staying out of trouble, having fallen in with what he describes as “some bad boys”. “Otherwise”, he reflects “I would have been in and out of prison”.
He’s proud of all the jobs he had after leaving the army: “I worked on the buses, at the Ford motor company in Dagenham, helped build fire extinguishers and prams”. Just over 20 years ago, however, John fell on hard times after he was caught drink driving. He lost his job, got mixed up in drugs, was evicted from his home and ended up having to stay with friends. “You can only do that for so long”, he says, which finally led to him being referred to SFTS. John has only been at the Shelter for a short while. He describes it as “a good place, with friendly people”, and he appreciates the food that’s served up. One thing he finds hard, however, is having to spend the day outside, as the Shelter only opens for the night.
John hopes to find some shared accommodation soon, then a place of his own. Once he gets back on his feet, he would love to visit Guyana again. He was last there in 1990 and, he muses, much will have changed.
Born in Jamaica and brought up in Birmingham, former beauty pageant winner Euphemia, 63, spent much of her adult life in Italy, only returning to the UK in 2012 after a family trauma. She wanted to be closer to her relatives and was looking forward to finding work, having previously run her own beauty store and held jobs in a toothpaste factory and at a travel agency.
“It turned out things had changed since I was last here and it was so hard to find a proper job,” she says.
“For a while I worked in a shop from 8am until midnight for just a hundred pounds a week. I also got offered a job working on a street stall but as I have health troubles it was not good to be outside all day”.
Euphemia has experienced problems with her kidneys since she was punched in a racist attack in 2006.
“I haven’t had an easy time but I try to smile and be there for others because we all have problems,” she says.
Some of the other women guests at the shelter call her ‘Auntie’ or ‘Mother’.
“I like that because my mother left me when I was two so I always try to share the love that I didn’t have”, she smiles.
Euphemia enjoys sewing, cooking and chatting but says her ideal job would be running a charity shop.
“My dream is to earn my own money again and to be able to hold a set of keys in my hand and unlock the door to my own room”.