“When we were going into lockdown, I didn’t have regular access to the internet because the library was closed. I’d just been out of prison, I didn’t have a phone. At the hostel, you could use the computer, but the staff were shielding, and you needed a staff member with you. It was a nightmare. You can’t sign into your Jobseeker’s or Universal Credit website or use it to set up a bank account and to find somewhere to live.
“I had a little probation phone; I could only receive incoming calls off it, so it wasn’t good. The Crisis Clinical Psychologist said she could get hold of a phone for me, so we could do face-to-face video. It’s opened up just so much opportunity for me. It meant I could be involved in the Health Now group, a group of peers and Crisis staff, all done on Zoom. I’ve done lots of work with the psychologist on Zoom. And I’ve been able to get involved in a whole range of other projects too.
“I’ve got a laptop through Tesco Mobile as well. I can do courses on it - I’m doing the Samaritans course. It means I can do further education. I have trouble leaving the house, but there’s loads I can do with the laptop. Without a laptop, I wouldn’t be able to progress myself, things like even doing documents, applications, Zoom calls – all that kind of stuff is much easier.
“That loss of potential of all those lives because there isn’t a support network to help them. You come out into a hostel environment, that’s only ever a temporary stay. A lot of lads go into B&Bs or maybe back to areas where they’re not comfortable or might get reinvolved in crime. There was no wraparound support, still isn’t in a lot of ways. You should always have a house, there’s no reason why not.
“When I got out of prison and first met Crisis and saw the work they were doing, I really wanted to be part of it. There’s a real sense of pride. People ask me what I do now, I say I’m a volunteer for Crisis. I’ve had a year’s intensive psychotherapy with Crisis’ Clinical Psychologist. I’d still be on waiting lists if I’d gone to other therapies. It’s had a massive impact on my life.
“I went on Crisis’ Renting Ready course because I was living in a hostel, and I needed my own accommodation. It was a brilliant course, really intelligently put together. I’ve kept the pack for if I have a private landlord in the future.
“Luckily, my key worker in the hostel managed to get me onto a scheme called Host, which is a housing association for offenders. Otherwise, I would have to wait a year or two years before I could class my area as my local area - you’re not allowed on the council list until then.
“I’ve been invited to volunteer with Crisis which has changed my life around. I’m involved in so many good helpful projects now. I’ve done peer research where we’ve found out about the logistical problems for people who are homeless getting medical care through the pandemic.
“I’ve done a lot of work with the Crisis psychologist; she’s doing sector workshops and I’m the Expert by Experience volunteer.
“I’ve also done an online theatre piece with Cardboard Citizens on Zoom. Now it’s coming together to change legislation, to make sure all people who are experiencing homelessness have digital connectivity. I was the main character; that was the first time I’d done anything like that!
“People need help and they need support and they’re just not getting it. In the 21st century, everything is digital. You need to be digitally inclusive. If you don’t have somewhere to live and don’t have a phone or internet, how are you going to have access to society?”
Your support makes such a difference to people like James - thank you.
When you’re living with a mental health problem, or supporting someone who is, having access to the right information is vital. For free information and support on mental health, visit mind.org.uk.
This story reflects James’ experience, but his photo has been changed to protect his identity.
You can make your gifts go even further by declaring Gift Aid whenever you donate.
Gift Aid is a government scheme that allows charities to reclaim tax that’s already been paid on donations from UK taxpayers. If you say yes to Gift Aid, the Government will add an extra 25p to every £1 you give to Crisis. You can declare it any time you donate.
It only takes a second and it will help even more people leave homelessness behind - at no extra cost to you.
People with experience of homelessness are helping to drive a major shift in the way homelessness gets talked about in the UK.
It’s part of a project, funded by Crisis and Comic Relief, that hopes a new, powerful story about homelessness will replace tired old notions about ‘poor choices’, or dated ideas that homelessness is ‘inevitable’.
Right now, Crisis members are helping to create and deliver inspiring training sessions right across the homelessness sector. The aim is to get people talking about homelessness in a way that builds understanding, empathy and connection. And ultimately, we believe changing the way people think and talk about homelessness will help to end it for good.
Here is a video of one of our colleagues going through some tips on how to talk about homelessness, and below is a blog explaining why framing is such an important tool.