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Hostile hell

November 01 2019
© Jean Hendry © Jean Hendry

Horrible times in a hostel reported by McGinlay. This may be upsetting.

Sometime ago, I used to work for an independent homeless outreach. Though this was rewarding, it was heart-breaking to hear some of the challenges my clients were facing. Through this outreach, I realised the varied levels of homelessness: most people’s idea of it is rough sleeping but there are sofa surfers, squatters and those living in homeless hostels.

Some of my clients spoke of these places as a “living nightmare”. No offence to them, but I used to think they were exaggerating. Surely hostels are meant for temporary safety and support, right?

By 2012, my own sense of security was broken, when a stalker made it unsafe for me to live at my home. I had to move out for my own safety, I was told I would only have to stay in a hostel for a few months. Those few months turned into two years and I cannot stress enough… IT WAS HELL ON EARTH.

The place was a mixed sex hostel with around 55 residents including 14 vulnerable females. All of the women were financially and sexually harassed. One ex-con said he deliberately committed petty crimes so he could go back to prison, to feel safer behind bars!

A young man, who I will call ‘T’, was seriously suicidal one evening and asked for help. The staff’s attitude was blasé. They accused him of “seeking attention”. Right in front of everyone, T started to slice up his left arm, over old scars. Within seconds, I couldn’t see his flesh anymore, there was so much blood pouring from him. No staff called 999, nor assisted T to A&E. Neither T nor I had any travel expenses but we managed to walk to the nearest hospital. And today, that image still haunts me… I promised T I would tell his story one day.

Staff members also ate donated Pret sandwiches reserved for residents. One so-called support worker knowing some clients had no income or benefits, said “Oh, I’ll have an extra beef sarnie, my dog likes them.”

The degree of daily neglect was taking its toll on my mental and physical health; I could stay awake for up to five days in a row due to the pressure I faced and receiving deaths threats or threats of rape made it worse. I felt suicidal, the repeated flashbacks on a daily basis led to a very public emotional breakdown. One amazing friend Rob, who had previously worked in mental health, intervened, as most friends by now had given up on me and didn’t know what to do. I was then diagnosed with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and eventually started therapy.

To this day, it scares the shit out of me that this hostel still stands. Since my experience, many have come forward to disclose similar experiences and have gone as far as to say “there needs to be a Channel 4 Dispatches type of investigation into these places. I’ve known many people go through that broken system. They go in with a handful of problems and come out the other end with more problems than they began with.

I’m still receiving therapy. Homelessness is a traumatic experience. To any reader who can relate to my story, my heart goes out to you and if you need therapy, I highly recommend it. I am currently receiving trauma focused hypnotherapy; it targets the trauma images I see in flashbacks. The therapy technique helps me not to get emotionally distressed when I talk about intrusive memories. Honestly speaking, I think it is the best therapy for PTSD, so readers please consider this if you feel like it might help you on your journey to healing and recovery.

Trauma recovery
Tried and tested services for mental health recovery:

• The Traumatic Stress Clinic at St Pancras Hospital, self-referrals accepted.

• Cognitive Behaviour Therapy & Schema Therapy, request through local GP, this therapy IS very intense but worth doing.

• The Trauma Focused Hypnotherapy the writer receives is private. Details from: Mariam@mb-therapy.co.uk

• Ask to be referred for therapy, which is available from some hostels

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