Monday, 24 July 2017

Watford Homeless Project

There are so many good causes and charities… what makes helping the homeless one of my interests?

Many years ago, when I was training to be a teacher in Manchester, it happened to me. Luckily, the council were successful in forcing the landlord to overturn their decision, and, as it happened just before the Christmas holidays, my family could take me in while I found another flat for the next term.

I’ve always had asthma, and the damp and cold top floor of the townhouse in Heaton Moor was acerbating the problem. I love the vibe of Manchester, but anyone who has ever lived there will tell you that it never seems to stop raining!! The rest of the country will be in glorious sunshine, but not the Mancunians I’m afraid! In these conditions, I caught a nasty chest infection and, feeling weak and not having a telephone (this was in 1993, so no mobiles!) I considered walking to the telephone box 20 minutes away to make the call to my university, to explain that I wouldn’t be coming in.

The landlord had a phone on the landing, one floor down. I would certainly have asked permission first, but thinking that everyone was at work, I used their phone to make the call. The landlady (I think she was called Val, but it was so long ago I’m not certain) caught me in the act. She went ballistic and screamed at my partner and I, telling us to get out right away. Frightened, the two of us grabbed what we could and were literally thrown out on to the street.

It’s hard to believe, as the Ruth of today would not have been so easily intimidated! To cut what could be a long story short, the council intervened and explained to the landlady that she was breaking the law, that we had to be allowed to see out our tenancy and access our belongings.

When I see the rough sleepers of Watford, I can easily see how one or two wrong turns in your life can send you on to the wrong path. There is no doubt that I shouldn’t have used the phone without permission, and I’m sure that many homeless people would also recognise that they have made mistakes. Sometimes these mistakes snowball, one bad decision leading to another and another.

In my work with the Watford Homeless Project I have had the opportunity to hear their stories; sometimes stories that start out like mine, but these don’t have such a happy ending. Some of the community have had successful careers, families and the trappings of financial success. It is hard to comprehend, but that guy you see begging on the street in dirty clothes has at times run businesses, and could probably knock your maths skills into a cocked hat – even when he is blind drunk!

They all have an interesting story to tell. The next phase of L4G outreach work (Watford Homeless) is going to be to hear their stories, to listen, understand and hopefully through sharing and communicating with the community, to help them to heal. That said, not every rough sleeper is looking for change, to be fixed, or for charity; whilst I will continue with practical support (e.g. fundraising) I believe that this venture is about developing a mutual understanding between us all, and a different sort of change.

L4G’s strapline is ‘What if we knew you?’ What if we knew more about the people in society who only make themselves visible in shop doorways and night shelters? What if we knew their stories, your stories…. our stories?