David's story. 'If Crisis at Christmas hadn’t been there, I don’t know what I would have done.'

‘I’ve been teaching abroad in international schools and universities for nearly thirty-years. I only came back to the UK from Japan, where I’ve been living for the past twenty-five years in December last year, after I got divorced from my wife. As a young man I’d trained as a teacher in Scotland. I studied philosophy at the University of Glasgow and become particularly interested in the philosophy of education. I thought about doing a Phd, but academic philosophy has never really interested me. At first, I worked on education research projects in the Western Isles for nearly twelve years, but increasingly I got frustrated by simply reading about education, rather than actually living the experience in the classroom. Initially I went to Turkey as Assistant Director of Studies at a small independent school in my early thirties.

I taught English language, and later also English Literature to post grads at university. I loved it there, but I always wanted to go farther east, and after three years in Turkey I got offered the chance to go to Japan to establish a University of Cambridge program for the students at a private school. I got married to a Japanese woman and we were together for fifteen years. We had a good relationship, but she found someone else. These things happen. I could only find part time lecturing after we were divorced, and I was living in a tiny little apartment one my own. At that point I started to re-evaluate things. In Japan if you are a professional academic, especially a western academic, the situation is not good at the moment. One of my friends at a different university told me recently they had sacked 40 members of faculty. There just aren’t enough students.

I discussed with some mentors in my field and decided it would be better to come back to the UK. It was a bit of a gamble, but there was nothing to hold me in Tokyo anymore. I paid into the Japanese system and I would qualify for a tiny pension if I stayed in Japan for a few more years but it wouldn’t have been worth it. The major recruiters for international teaching are still mainly based in London, the US and Canada as well. There aren’t many in Tokyo at all, so I thought I would have better luck here.

I had enough just money for a place ticket and a little bit put aside, but our joint bank account got closed down in the divorce, so I didn’t have much. But I thought just enough. I have no family that I can be in touch with, so initially the plan was to stay in what I thought would be cheap hotels, but I was stunned by the prices. I couldn’t believe the cost in general of everything. I then moved to smaller hostels, but even they were quite expensive. I think London is even more expensive than Tokyo now. After a few weeks, it became obvious that the little bit of money I had put aside was not going to last that long, so I contacted a priest at a local church just for a chat about what I could do. That was just a place I thought I could turn too. 

The Ealing Abbey sent me to the Homeless Action Centre. They referred me to the Ealing Churches group to stay in their winter night shelter, and via them I got to know Crisis at Christmas. This shelter is a godsend. They’re a lifesaver. The help they give is phenomenal. At least I’ve got somewhere to stay. I also went to Ealing council and spoke to a nice housing officer who was very helpful, but they said there was nothing they could do for me for six months because I’d been out of the country for so long. When I tell them my story, they look at me a bit like an alien. They have registered me in the system but that’s all they can do for now.

The actual staff at the housing office and the job centre have been very supportive, but their hands are tied, so they’re frustrated too. I thought my passport would be sufficient for them to process my Universal Credit application but that’s not the case either. My last interview there I was told that I couldn’t get start the application until I get a bank account, but I can’t get that without a permanent address, and they won’t accept the church’s address, even though the church have said I can use it, so I don’t know what to do. The Church shelter doesn’t open over Christmas because they can’t staff it properly. If Crisis at Christmas hadn’t been there, I don’t know what I would have done. I would have been completely lost. Not only for a place to stay, but for the warmth and friendliness, and for all the services which were fantastic. The dental service, the hairdressers, the doctors and chiropodist. You name it. It was real relief, and I’ll be working with them in the new year. They could do with something like Crisis in Japan. I just want to get this sorted so I can focus on getting back into teaching. At least now the Christmas period is over, hopefully I can crack on with getting back on my feet again.

People think there are no homeless people in Japan, but there is. It’s a massive problem. Homelessness is just more hidden there. It’s got a lot worse since the financial crash. The economy never really recovered. It’s been in a kind of managed decline. Some people live in cardboard cities along river banks and under bridges. Periodically police will clear dwellings away, but they are just forced to go somewhere else. I hoped to have a bit of space when I first arrived just to reflect and ponder, but that’s not been possible yet. I thought my wife and I would see out our days in Japan, but if you don’t have that stable basis there it can be brutal. My hope is to get back on my feet, start teaching and contributing again. Perhaps in adult literacy or maybe immigrants who want to improve their English skills. If push comes to shove, I would go overseas again but I don’t want to as I’m sixty-three now.’ 

David, Ealing Churches Winter Night Shelter.

Since Christmas David has been supported by a Crisis Skylight in London, and is making good progress.  

By sharing stories we can change attitudes and build a movement for permanent, positive change. Stand against homelessness and help us end it for good.