Ali's story. 'We all get lost sometimes, we all get confused, and that leaves us vulnerable.'
'I was born in Qatar but my parents are Iranians so I was never actually a Qatari citizen. About ninety per cent of people in Qatar are ex-pats like that. When I was growing up I decided I wanted to train as a pilot but it was too expensive in Qatar so I went to aviation academy in Russia for three years instead, and it was when I came back as a qualified pilot that things went wrong for me.
I lent my neighbour some money but when I asked for it back he brought the police with him and claimed it was drug money. It was hard to accept that my neighbour could do that to me as he was a childhood friend, but in Qatar it’s all about who you know. They had no proof but the drug laws are extremely strict, and because I wasn’t a citizen they could deport me easily.
My partner and I were Iranian citizens, but we were afraid they would take away our passports if we went back there, so we decided to come to England. I found work and we got married in Putney. We had two lovely children and I became a citizen in 2005.
It was all going well until 2009 when I decided to go and see my Grandma in Iran. My wife didn’t want me to go but my grandmother was sick and she was afraid I’d never see her again so I went. I was only meant to go for ten days but as soon as I entered the country they told me I couldn't leave again, and they kept me there for about a month and a half. They questioned me about the deportation all over again. They even made me sign a piece of paper saying I wasn’t working for the British. Eventually I had to bribe my way out of the country.
I tried to speak to my employers in England about the situation but when I finally came back home I found out I’d lost my job because they couldn’t keep it secure for more than a month.
I took out a loan and I started working five different jobs just to keep the wolves from the door and pay the mortgage, but I was working so much that I didn’t see my family and my marriage began to break down as a result.
My wife asked me to move out, but I had nowhere else to go. I had no friends or family close by that I could stay with and I began sleeping in my new employer's van. I didn’t identify myself as being homeless then as I was just focused on trying to get my family back together. I was still paying the bills while I was living in the van which is why I couldn’t afford to rent a room myself.
I put a sofa in the back and that was ok for a while but after six months it became really hard. The winter was coming and it was too cold. Then my employer noticed the sofa and I had to lie and say I was just helping move a friend’s furniture.
I didn’t know who to turn to. I was so ashamed by the whole thing. I couldn’t take it anymore so I decided I would go back to Qatar to visit my father. But my relationship with my family was not good. They didn’t want me there and they actually called the police to have me deported again.
I don’t think my parents really knew how to parent. Nobody really gets that guide, but all I learnt from my mother was hatred and the feeling that she despised me. She said it was gruesome watching me grow up. My father taught me nothing apart from getting a whack if he heard me while he was sleeping.
When I was a child I turned to TV to learn about how people should relate to each other properly, and that’s also where I learnt my English. But you’re not supposed to feel that about a TV because it’s not real.
Hate is a hard thing for me to do. I’m better at convincing myself about the circumstances that might explain why people are the way they are. Can I forgive them? Can I forget it? They were supposed to be the adults and know what is right for me as an individual but I’ve always been made to feel like the black sheep.
When I came back to England I literally had nothing. I’d been sent to a deportation prison without any of my belongings. At first I sofa surfed with some friends but they had children and I couldn’t stay for long, and that’s when it got really rough. I was sleeping on the streets, underneath stairs, in recycle bins, in public toilets. I managed to borrow another friend's car and slept in that for a long time through the winter. That was the hardest. I just couldn’t tolerate the cold outside.
Eventually a homeless outreach team from Oxford homeless pathways came and helped get into the O’Hanlon House hostel in Oxford.
I found it hard to relate to people in the hostel at first. I didn’t know how to deal with it. Some people looked up to me because I dressed smart and didn’t look shabby. One of them even thought I was a keyworker. I’ve since moved to a different hostel and found some purpose trying to help other people in a similar situation, but I still find it hard to have empathy for myself.
I am trying to drive myself forward. The job centre expects me to work. The hostel expects me to leave and become dependent on myself, but no one really shows you where to start.
I enrolled in the army reserves but I damaged my knee in one of the training exercises and had to have surgery which meant that my time in the army went down the pan very quickly. I then got involved in community interpreting because I speak 13 different languages and dialects. I volunteer at several places giving free English lessons for overseas workers, and I also volunteer at a place that helps homeless people build and maintain their own bicycles.
As well as that I started going to City of Oxford College to do a business access course so I can start my own business one day. They even made me the student representative there. I enjoyed that experience so much that I’d love to go to university, but right now I feel I should be contributing to the society that has helped me.
It’s very hard to try and get back into society and live as normal. Normal is something I haven’t felt in a long time. How do I trust another relationship after my ex-wife threw me out onto the streets with nowhere to go? Even the place I live in now I shy away from relationships. I try not to go there until after midnight when everyone’s gone to bed and then I wake up before they do and leave early.
Sometimes I still feel like that child that needs a pat on the back when you’ve done right, or be told that wasn’t the right way of thinking when you've made a mistake. I never had that growing up and I don’t have a friend or family here to give me advice and help me either. I still have such doubts in myself that I feel I need someone to hold my hand and show me the way.
At college I’ve learnt about a psychologist called Abraham Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Need’ theory which says that people must have the basic things in life like food and shelter first, and only then are you able to move one, better yourself and contribute to society.
We all get lost sometimes, we all get confused, and that leaves us vulnerable. If there was a way that people could get help before they get stuck as homeless that would help. When I became homeless I could easily have gone down the wrong path of crime or addiction, but the sensible side of me always said that there was a better way of doing this.
My children are now living in France with their mother. I don’t see them as much as I’d like to. Part of it is because I don’t have a place of my own that I can invite them to, but my ex-wife doesn’t want me to come to their house either so I usually meet them outside somewhere. I’m glad my children have grown up with a better life than I had and I can’t take all the credit for that, but I’d love to see them more than I do. I’m just hoping that there will be a time where I’ll have a place that will be safe for my children to come over and stay.'
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