Ashley's story. 'Homeless people have become commodities now.'
“When I was younger we never saw homelessness on a scale like this, but after my dad died when I was fifteen, my mother started working in a bed and breakfast with another guy, and they started taking in homeless people, the unemployed, or people who had left prison, just because the council would pay them to. They converted an old doctor’s surgery by subdividing entire rooms into four. The council used to throw money into it because it eradicated the problem for them. Then suddenly lots of other people started doing the same thing, and then gradually all these hostels started appearing. It was like suddenly people discovered there’s big money in this, but it was just exploiting people’s vulnerability.
I was adopted when I was eighteen months old, but after my dad died my mother also became an alcoholic. I needed my dad around that time, and all I had was a drunken mum who would hit me with the fire poker, so I left home when I was seventeen. I spent the majority of the next twenty years abroad as an English language teacher. Mostly in Asia and Thailand. It’s an insecure future because the money is poor, and you always have to worry about visas, but I never really had a family to come back to in Wales, which is probably why I wanted to go abroad so much. My mother died when I was in Thailand. She was seventy-five, but I didn’t even know she was dead until a year later.
I did try to return home once, and that’s when I first stayed in a hostel as a homeless person myself. I’ve tried to get work teaching here, but because you need a teaching degree in England, people aren’t interested. I would love to go back to university and get my education degree, but l just can’t afford it. I've even offered to volunteer teaching English to refugees, but they didn’t seem to care. I think they just saw me as a homeless person, and didn’t want me teaching anything. Eventually I found my own flat and managed to train for an HGV license instead, but at the time I couldn’t get any work in Wales, and I was coming close to becoming homeless again, so I went back to Thailand.
It was even harder there that time. They were paying the same money as 21 years before, and the military government were really cracking down on foreign workers. When my visa expired I couldn't get it renewed, and I was deported back to the UK for good in Jan 2018. At first a friend put me up in return for doing his house up, but he treated me a bit like slave labour, and when I tried to talk to him about it he just kicked me out on the street. I spent two days in the night shelter, then I stayed at the YMCA for about a month, but there you can’t unpack anything and every day you have to leave at ten in the morning and you couldn’t return until seven at night. It’s freezing and snowing outside, but you still had to leave. I’ve got two friends who came back from abroad and found themselves in similar situations like me. Unable to find work and ending up homeless.One of them was in the military and even he’s homeless now. I always paid my taxes in this country while I was away, but as single males we’re not priority need.
The council eventually got me into this hostel, and in fairness it’s a good place here. It’s run more like a family hostel. The staff are great and there’s a walk-in policy into the office. I have a bed, I can unpack, and it’s comfortable. I can go out whenever I want and come back whenever I want. It’s warm. It’s a decent room. The only thing is you’re sharing with lots of other people who have complicated issues because they just throw everyone in together. It’s ok to be down and out occasionally. It makes you very non-judgmental and empathetic, but only if you’re confident enough to get yourself out of it. Some people should not be in a place like this at all, they should be in a hospital. A lot of people here have mental problems, but not every homeless person is on drink or drugs. In fact, the majority who are on drink or drugs are on them because they’re in places like this. They feel the social stigma. They feel neglected and left out, and then they lose hope.
Luckily, I’ve still got my HGV license and have finally managed to find a driving job, so now I can get out of the system, but being here you start to realise that bridge just doesn’t exist for most people. I wouldn’t be able to afford my own place without a permanent job. Housing benefit doesn’t cover it, minimum wage isn’t enough, and a zero hours contract makes it almost impossible. There are also very few opportunities for education while you’re here, and even less support if you do get out, so lots of people just end up going through the whole cycle again. It’s almost like they want you to come back. Even I’m not certain I’ll be able to pay private rents forever. I know lots of people who feel it’s better for people to just stay in the hostel, even the people who run them, because they know there’s no real alternative for them outside.
Homeless people have become commodities now. There are people in here you know will be here a very long time, but a lot of people have vested interests in keeping the system the way is, because there’s money to be made, and until the system changes there’ll always be an endless supply of homeless people to feed it. It costs the council about £300 a week for someone to stay in some of these places. Someone is making money from homelessness, and it’s not the homeless.”
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