James. Two weeks away from homelessness.
“If it hadn’t been for my writing I think I would have been dead by now. I got referred by the Job Centre to a creative writing class to help with my depression during the court case and that’s when it all started. Writing has been the best therapy possible. I was suicidal at times. Every two weeks just praying the benefit payment will come in time, so I can pay my bills and still stay in my house. I channelled all those emotions into the books. Three years later I’ve published three novels and the fourth one will come out soon.
In 2006 I was diagnosed with clinical depression after my photography business collapsed and I’ve been on incapacity benefit ever since. I moved back home to live with my mum and looked after her before she died of Alzheimer’s three years ago. After she died I was left the house, but the will was poorly written, and I have had to go to court to stay living there. The case has been ruled in my favour now but every month I’m never sure if I can simply pay the interest in the credit cards I used to pay the legal fees. I couldn’t get legal aid and I couldn’t afford a lawyer, so I had to represent myself. I’ve gone into £12,000 debt paying court fees. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to pay that back.
I’m just living fortnight to fortnight at the moment. I rely on food and clothes from various charities, churches and soup runs. If it wasn’t for all the volunteers who organise those I wouldn’t be able to survive. I can’t afford to heat my house more than 12 degrees, and the only food I ever do buy is for my dogs. They help keep me sane like the writing does. I hear the same thing from lots of homeless people who have dogs. It means you’re responsible for more than just yourself.
I’d experienced depression my whole life but after I lost my business I just couldn’t function anymore. It was just a small shop but every month I wasn’t sure if I could make the bank payment. In the end I had to walk away from everything and I never really got over that. It took about ten years to recover.
If I had to leave the house now I know I would end up in temporary accommodation or rough sleeping. The stress has been overwhelming at times. Never knowing if next month I’ll be on the street. Creative writing has enabled me to cope. It took the stress out of me. Services like that are hard to quantify but so essential for people in my position. They keep you connected to the world and keep you sane. At school I used to need extra support because I couldn’t write properly. It used to take me a week to write a letter. Now I’m a published author. I just pray I can stay in my house.”
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