One third of care leavers experience homelessness in the first two years of leaving care. Our Compass Community CEO, Bernie Gibson was horrified when she learned this statistic, so she decided she wanted to help.
On Thursday 12th March, Bernie will be giving up her home comforts to spend the night sleeping outside to help try to combat homelessness. She will be taking part in a countrywide fundraising event called the CEO Sleepout, raising money to fight poverty and homelessness.
It’s hard to not be are aware of the saddening statistics across the country; with an estimated 320,000 people in the UK classed as homeless- we want this to change. Everyone’s circumstances are different and any one of us could be a wage packet away from a difficult living situation, going from renting, owning or staying in our own accommodation to having no fixed address to our name. One of our Compass Supervising Social Workers, John has had his own experience with being homeless- he shared his story with us in hope to help inspire others to take action.
John served in the Army, during which time he was injured and spent some time in Headley Court Hospital, before being discharged. He had no home to go to and was unable to find supported living. Funds and support can run out for many people in his situation, which sadly happened instantly for John as he left Headley Court. Without a permanent fixed address to his name, finding work to pay for temporary accommodation became near impossible and he found himself in a dire living situation. John recounted his final night of homelessness, when he was taking shelter in a stranger’s garden:
‘I was cold to the bone, it was still dark, I lay there under a sheet of corrugated iron in only my coat. Contemplating and listening for danger as I was in someone’s back garden- I remember feeling the cold as though I had died a little more that night.’
‘I found myself waiting in the dark outside a little café in a side street, as the morning hours passed, I saw the price list on the window for a cup of tea. The realisation slowly settled into my mind that I only had 18p and could not afford a cup of tea, even when the shop opened; I continued standing there, waiting for a long time.’
John didn’t give up hope, he continued to try to find work whatever way he could, after all, he had joined the Armed Forces to help his country and other people- and he wanted to continue to do so. ‘Later that day I found the warmth of the job centre and again went through the cards which held promise, collecting anything new, I queued to be seen.’ Keeping positive, he managed to secure himself an interview for a security job in Sutton for that afternoon.
He needed to kill some time and keep warm before his meeting. ‘I walked mindlessly on and off the train without paying and arrived to be given my first cup of tea for some days. I was given the job and slept on the office floor, even given access to the tea and biscuits! The next morning my new manager brought in a sandwich and gave it me as though this was nothing significant…’ Being shown humanity is so vital in such precarious situations like John’s, he was given a chance to prove his abilities regardless of his circumstances.
Sadly, the odds are stacked against care leavers, as many young people in care are expected to leave their homes at a much earlier age than their peers who are not looked after. We know how important encouraging young people to be prepared for adulthood is; our foster carers teach independent life skills in hope that these stay with our young people well into the future.
Sometimes just a cup of tea is enough to show someone who is struggling some humanity. The charity Coffee4Craig is based around this concept.
Fortunately, after a successful 30 year-long career working in the care sector, John now works as a Supervising Social Worker with us. Now he is able to safeguard vulnerable children and gives our foster carers the professional support that they may need. ‘My real motivation is to make sure our looked after community of children are equipped for adult life.’
Tackling homelessness is in the hearts of many at Compass. One of our incredible foster carers, Yvonne, has signed up for a bumper rest of 2020. She’s taking part in numerous fundraising events all over the country for another charity fighting homelessness in the UK. We will be following Yvonne’s ventures as she goes.
- Become: charity working with looked after children and care leavers, for advice and their rights.
- The Children’s Society: support for disadvantaged children.
- Your Own Place: support for people moving to independence.
- Shelter: housing advice for all.
- CentrePoint: housing, support with help and advice for young people.
- Citizen’s Advice: information and advice for homeless help.