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"You’re only one wage packet away from homelessness," Tony begins, speaking from bitter experience
Roughly two years ago, Tony lost his job as a night porter and, due to his inability to pay the rent, he was soon evicted. After a short spell sofa-surfing, Tony, for the first time in his life, became street homeless. With little prospect of employment in his home town, Tony moved around Britain looking for work or accommodation, yet was persistently turned away.
One evening, he found himself wrapped up not-so-warm under a bridge in Exeter. “The winter of 2012 was the coldest for years,” Tony recollects. He moved to London hoping for a break, but instead found himself wandering around city, with nowhere to go.
In the hope of a hot shower and a bit of grub, Tony often visited shelters across London. “Some were terribly unhygienic,” he says, “nothing like this place.” Indeed, Crisis’s pop-up shelter in Westminster College – where Tony and I sat on garish modern sofas discussing his journey back in December – is not your average homeless shelter. It was at a Crisis shelter like this that Tony found himself two years ago.
The place is packed with eager volunteers, art sprawls across the high ceilings and the colourful Christmas decorations provide a welcoming atmosphere. The idea is to provide everything someone who is on the streets would need, with makeshift dentist surgeries, barbers, clinics, workshops and advice centres all on offer. Guests, who arrive on 23 December are invited to receive a haircut, a health check and job advice, all in the same vicinity.
Tony remembers how welcome that all was when he first turned up in 2012. He says Crisis gave him an opportunity to improve his situation dramatically – and he seized it with both hands. He was, and indeed still is, exceptionally grateful. Since his experience with homelessness, Tony has volunteered with Crisis for the past two years. “It’s gone full circle,” he says, “they helped me, and now I’m able to help others.”
As a volunteer, Tony hears stories like his own. Homeless people continue to be turned away from the authorities, shelters across the city are full, there is little, if any, government support; and the seemingly endless battle for work and accommodation persists. Tony understands this more than most. His hard-won struggle isn’t over, yet it appears that in helping others he gets a sense of relief.
Find out more: www.crisis.org.uk