Former Nightshelter resident, Mike*, has first hand experience of how quickly life can change. He arrived at the Nightshelter not long before Christmas 2018 having been living on the streets of Oxford and Winchester. Once an entrepreneur with a successful business, Mike discovered the fragility of life and how one wrong move can quickly take you on a path to homelessness.
“I worked abroad for many years and had a business with a partner. We made a lot of money of which my business partner cheated me. I found that a fifty four year old man who has always worked for himself is completely unemployable. When I returned to England I went to Oxford because I thought I would be able to get a low skill job doing office work most easily. But I couldn’t and despite visiting the employment agencies every day could find nothing and was turned down for a clerical job as ‘unqualified’. I remember that rejection most because it was what put me on the street when I was unable to pay my rent.
“Some friends helped: most didn’t. In fact, it was my closest friends who were least helpful and most unsympathetic regarding unemployment and homelessness as a failure of character. Oxford, it turns out, too is a bad place to be homeless because there are so many people on the streets. You need a local connection to access homeless services. Because I had been working abroad I actually had no local connection – it is the place where you have been living for the last three years.
“So I ended up back in Winchester, the city where I was born. And here the system – which is almost entirely voluntary and funded by local churches – worked. The Nightshelter is actually, surprisingly, fairly comfortable and with good food. The past histories of my fellow residents showed that the cliché ‘homelessness can happen to anyone’ is actually true – there were professionals who had found themselves on the streets because of the breakdown of relationships. And if a resident has a problem with alcohol or drugs there are programmes to get them out of it.
I was eight months in the shelter and ‘moved on’ into a very nice flat owned by the local Catholic church where I had been christened 54 years before. I am working on several business ventures and have returned to journalism.”
*names have been changed