Shirley's story. 'I was so lost when I first came to Crisis at Christmas. Now people can’t believe how different I am.'
“I first came to England out 10 years ago to learn English. I only meant to stay for eleven months, but I became a journalist for a Brazilian newspaper from 2010-2014, and I was also singing, and teaching children on Saturday mornings. I loved London. Even the weather.
I never expected to be homeless. I was living a normal life. I was happy working at a newspaper, singing and teaching, but I had a difficult situation with my family and afterwards I became very depressed and lost touch with people. I had nowhere to go. I lost the desire to live, to work, to study. I went to the doctor who put me in touch with social services. They found place in a hostel for women only, but there were so many people with such serious problems. I couldn’t believe I was there. In the same year, March 2016 my father died in Brazil and I never got the opportunity to speak to him beforehand.
From Jan 2016 I stayed eight months on the floor of the hostel. I became stuck. I didn’t have a life anymore. I didn’t want to do anything. I didn’t want to see people. I didn’t want to speak to people. I really lost my myself. I didn’t feel I had anyone I could trust anymore. After eight months I had used all my student finance to pay the rent, so I had to leave. Then I stayed with a lady who took pity on me and let me stay in her spare room, but I had to leave after two months because she went travelling. I went to another friend’s house for one month, but then I decided to leave there too. I couldn’t disturb them any longer. That’s when I found Crisis at Christmas. One Monday in December a guy passing in the street asked me if I was looking for a place to stay, and I said I was. That’s when I realised I was homeless.
I spent the whole week before it started by sleeping on the bus. It was so cold. Then on the Friday morning at 8am I was there when they opened the doors. A member of staff found me a place in the Crisis women’s centre on the Saturday, and two people from Crisis drove me in a car because it was quite far away. I was broken financially and physically, and emotionally. When I arrived the centre I was scared but I loved it. There was karaoke, t-shirt painting, arts and crafts. That kind of thing helped my mind. The Shirley who loved to be creative came back a little. I did jewellery making. I painted a lot. I made five t-shirts to give as gifts. They gave me new clothes. I could choose whatever I wanted. Two new dresses, gloves, everything. I stayed there one hour choosing. It was amazing. I sang all night with the other ladies at karaoke. They saw light in me while I was still in darkness. The lady from Crisis even drove me to Church on Sunday night because I wanted to go to the Christmas service. She waited for me in the car while I went inside. They really cared for me.
I stayed there for five days, and after it closed, I found a new friend who offered me a place to stay for one month. After that I moved from one friend to another until June 2017, but then my life was back on the streets. For the next six months my life was really crazy. I was fighting day by day. My belongings were all in storage. I would sleep around King’s Cross and Paddington, or sometimes on the underground. I would take the train to zone nine at 11pm and stay on it until 5am. I would take a shower in King’s Cross gym, eat at a day centre for homeless women, but I would always come to Crisis in the daytime. I did all the classes I could; art, painting, blogging. Everything. I also did the song writing class and even started to record my first songs.
The day centre advised me to go to the Council in Westminster to explain my situation. I had letters from my doctor showing how emotionally destroyed I was. The Council then sent me to a hostel, and there I started to breath, and dedicate myself to music, drawing and singing to restore myself. To put the pieces back together. I started to playing guitar. I started to build my confidence and inner strength.
My progression coach at Crisis supported me with a business plan, and I applied for a Changing Lives Grant to open an online shop selling my t-shirts, hats and bags. In 2018 I gave a 45 minute presentation, and they approved the total amount. My coach said this was very uncommon. They said they were astonished with me. They helped me to make copies of my CD, ‘Light in the Darkness’ as well. I also have a web designer making my shop website. This year will be an incredible new start.
After several months, the council sent me a letter saying I now had the right to bid on a council property. Now I’m in a new flat and paying the rent. It is such a blessing. I can see during my journey that my faith has kept me up and moving forward step by step. I didn’t give up of life, but I also had such help from other people who didn’t even know me. They were like angels on earth.
I know I was a poor woman, and even though I will need to overcome more barriers in the future, I feel like a successful woman now, because I overcame very deep struggles.
This Christmas I was volunteering at Crisis at Christmas as a Performer Volunteer and as a Crisis Ambassador, including one day at the Women’s centre where I first came myself. I also sang in the Crisis Choir at Southwark Cathedral this year. The manager of the women’s shelter saw me give a speech there about my experience and said she was crying. I was so lost when I first came to Crisis at Christmas. Now people can’t believe how different I am.”
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