Owen's story. Experiencing homelessness during a pandemic.
When I became homeless in January 2019, I knew I was going to be faced with some tough challenges in getting myself back on my feet, but I could never have foreseen how different the world would be today, in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic. I’d been working for a national newspaper as a journalist and was secure in my employment, but was struggling with addiction. And, due to a family relationship breakdown, I found myself living in my car, becoming homeless overnight, something I never dreamed of happening. Desperate for help, I went to my local drug and alcohol service, which referred me into a homeless shelter. I was sleeping in church halls at night and roaming the streets during the day.
The start to a new life had begun and I focused on improving my mental and physical wellbeing, in addition to the long climb out of homelessness. I am now in recovery, sober and in good health, having pulled myself up from my personal rock bottom, but this would have been unimaginably more difficult amid the Coronavirus crisis.
Although I now have a roof over my head in supported accommodation, I am still considered homeless as this is only temporary. I am on a waiting list for affordable housing but a move will be frustratingly and indefinitely delayed. In the meantime, while I have my own bedsit, I share kitchen facilities with four other people, making total self-isolation impossible. And now, I’m feeling the effects of cabin fever during lockdown, cut off from the family relationships I’ve rebuilt as well as friends, with too much time to focus on fearful thoughts and irritable emotions as my routine and structure instantly fell away, making it especially important to be mindful of what I’m grateful for, get out, walk, and embrace my surroundings.
I still do not have a television and only recently got a smartphone for the first time in a year. Technology many of us take for granted and which most homeless people don’t have, but vital in keeping us updated with news or other sources of information about the virus, and connected to others.
With no savings, I currently live on £317 of Universal Credit a month, although the government has announced an increase for the next year. This needs to cover all bills and necessities, but never leaves room for luxuries such as new clothes. And worryingly, there’s the noticeable increase of prices in local stores and some supermarkets since the outbreak, with staples for eating cheaply such as tinned goods, pasta and rice missing from the shelves, and a low budget making it difficult to stockpile.
A long line of complex issues led to my own experience of homelessness. But many people may be about to go through their own similar misfortune for the first time. The loss of a job, a bereavement or being released early from the criminal justice system as prisons and institutions struggle to cope with the virus, are some of the many reasons which may see more people become homeless.
It is impossible to tell what the coming weeks and months will bring. And the current situation is concerning for us all, but we are all in this together, no matter who we are – or where we live – and for many of us, it has never been more important to come together and act out of love, a basic human need.
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.