Between Sofas and the Streets

by Hannah Green

 

My experience of homelessness began in December 2018, when I started suffering with severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and only ended very recently.

After university, I worked abroad to escape everything familiar. I experienced sexual abuse as a child, and then sexual assault whilst at university, and I had to get away from the environments that were constant reminders of these awful points in my past.

When I returned, things instantly spiralled. The flashbacks and nightmares started straight away. Everywhere I turned, I saw reminders of my worst memories, and it terrified me that I could bump into the guy who abused me.

I ended up at my cousins, but it got to the point where I felt like I was getting in the way, so I left. It was absolutely terrifying: that moment realising I wouldn’t have anywhere to stay, that I would literally be homeless. I was so lucky that I had come across Scarborough Survivors, a local mental health resource centre who referred me to another local charity who help young people who are homeless.

I went into Nightstop, emergency accommodation for under 25’s – you stay in a volunteer’s house overnight, get a hot meal and a shower. I stayed in 4 places over 9 nights. It was awful not knowing where I would be staying each night until mid-afternoon, then turning up at a stranger’s house. The anxiety was overwhelming and most days I broke down to the staff at Survivors. My mental health was at its lowest, and several times I was at the point of wanting to end it all.

I was then offered a supported lodgings placement, where I stayed for 3 months. It filled me with relief knowing I had a fixed address with meals, familiar faces and support from the charity.

The landlady also accommodated exchange students, usually “lads.” My PTSD is male-specific, so this was especially distressing. It caused panic attacks, which led to me getting really angry, mainly at myself for not being able to deal with the situation. I wasn’t sleeping or eating properly and was regularly self-harming. I couldn’t deal with being around up to five males in such a confined space.

This led to repeated disputes with the charity. They didn’t have any other placements, telling me I just had to “work through it.” I understood, but it wasn’t that easy. I was learning to trust males again, but slowly, through trauma therapy.

There was no quick fix. Leaving the placement meant I was “intentionally homeless.” I was learning to push myself and leave my comfort zone without inducing panic and triggering flashbacks. But one weekend multiple male students were staying and walking through the lad-filled kitchen triggered a crippling flashback. I couldn’t stay, so I returned to Nightstop.

I was on the waiting list for the local hostel, and now a “priority.” I was in limbo, not knowing where my Nightstop placement would be, or if the hostel could accommodate me. Nightstop kicked me out at 8:30am daily, so I spent hours pounding the streets, waiting for Survivors to open. I was lucky, I never spent a night on the streets – unlike most of the people I’ve met in the past year.

Two weeks later I moved into the hostel and life began to settle. I knew where I would be sleeping and felt safe, as staff or security were always around. There were still guys in the hostel, but I had my own private flat, lockable door and bathroom.

Hostel life exposed me to new situations – drugs and crime – and when my mental health was at its worst, I experimented. This was partly due to the people I was associating with in the hosteI, and a certain amount of peer pressure. I was quick to realise the drugs were only making my mental health worse, the increased anxiety and panic attacks meant I was struggling to function on a day-to-day basis. With the help of the staff at Survivors I learned how to say no. I managed to get myself into some uncomfortable situations and ended up in countless arguments with other residents. I was also assaulted one weekend, I’m still not really sure why.

In October, I was offered a flat in the “quiet” block owned by the same company as the hostel; however, the intensity of trauma therapy and an ongoing police investigation into my childhood meant I wasn’t mentally ready to live alone.

I was assured I could stay in the hostel until after Christmas, but a few weeks before, a flat became available in the most notorious block. I knew from people I had met in the hostel that it was well known for drugs and crime – someone had recently been stabbed there. As I’d “refused” the previous flat, I had to accept, even though the boss at the hostel had promised me I could stay. I felt extremely let down, especially with it being so close to Christmas. PTSD means I need to feel safe, and the staff assured me that I would.

Just before Christmas I moved and instantly hated it. Within days I’d rang an ambulance for a suspected drug overdose and then the police for several incidents. It was so loud. The all-night parties and suspected drug dealer above me meant no sleep. I was always on edge: between the noise and people coming and going constantly, I couldn’t settle. I spent many evenings in the crisis cafe in Survivors, and I am so, so grateful to the staff there. I definitely would not have pushed through it without them.

One evening I was forced to call security from the hostel. I had been assured that if there were any problems, I could ring them for help, but they said it was a police matter; the police said they wouldn’t respond to noise complaints. It was 3am, I couldn’t cope, there was nothing I could do other than deal with it myself. I broke the guys electric meter and the music stopped. In hindsight, it was a bad move: threats from the partygoers poured in, from “petrol bombing my letterbox” to “battering” me. They were probably idle threats but left me terrified, intensifying the PTSD.

The police advised me not to return, so I ended up staying on my friend’s sofa; however, that was also temporary accommodation and guests weren’t permitted, so we had to fly under the radar. Those three weeks were extremely chaotic, I had to pack up my stuff every day, so the staff didn’t know I was there.

Things are now looking up: I’ve moved into a private flat, I’ve been getting paid to write and I’ve been given some amazing opportunities over the past few weeks. Most people who are classed as homeless are either engaging with services, or else are not eligible for any sort of help.

A lot of people have asked me what they could have done to help. I spent 403 days classed as homeless, and during that time the most important thing anyone did for me was listen.

Having a normal, human conversation, more often than not, means more to a person than anything you could physically buy.

 

Hannah Green is a writer and activist. You can follow her on Twitter at @h_green21

Illustration by Meg Primmer.

 

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