I was born into a small family, a bubble of just four: my mum, dad, little sister and me. We never really connected with people outside our family – my mum and dad mostly stuck to each other, so we didn’t know many other people. My parents suffered with many issues and as I got older, I couldn’t stay at home. I became homeless at the age of 16 and moved into hostel accommodation through Centrepoint. Over a period of 10 years, I fought long and hard through a stream of different associations to acquire permanent housing. I applied numerous times through the council and housing departments within about three different boroughs before I finally got my own property in July 2020. I am now 26. That’s an entire decade of battling to acquire a stable home for myself.
Why was it so hard? Why did I have to wait so long to reach this point?
The problem is with the structure of the system. If a young person finds themselves in a situation similar to mine and their family or friends can’t help, then they are forced to seek help from the state. Often, that help seems to come with the preconceived notion that those needing it are not adding value to the economy, but rather taking from it. What’s the point in investing in something that will not create profit? But this viewpoint is foolish. Because people are valuable, and will more than likely make a contribution once given the right circumstances to thrive.
For me, I needed help financially and from the boroughs to get housing. But once people are in their homes, they then have the space to give back. Since getting my home, I have had the stability and security to start giving back to the community. I have started my own dance therapy workshops to help other vulnerable young people, taken part in a national ad campaign, and above all I am really happy! Had I not secured this housing, I would have really struggled to achieve this.
When trying to acquire housing through the council, it can sometimes feel like the staff are trying to discourage and divert you from the process. The majority of the responses I received when seeking help from my local borough were things such as: “Sorry, you have not come at the right time”; "Sorry, your conditions are not severe enough”; “Please seek help elsewhere and make your own arrangements”.
These responses I would hear time and time and time again. It’s devastating. Because no one can hold down a decent paid job in order to raise a deposit without a home in the first place! Rent prices alone are sky high, even for those who have a good salary.
It is my firm belief that there needs to be a rewiring of the current system to provide society with more fairness and equality. Everyone has basic needs and in order to flourish, we first need a home. A home is part of the psychological foundation outlined by Maslow in his hierarchy of needs. So why are we not prioritising this? How can one give back to the community if their basic needs aren’t being met? In this time more than ever, this needs to be corrected.
It’s shocking to me that in a country as wealthy as England, we allow people to experience such poverty and lack of opportunity, through no fault of their own; simply because they haven’t been dealt a good hand in life. Why aren’t we doing more to protect each other? This planet should be a place of love and kindness.
I experience such deep sorrow for these people. I have to take a step back and remember that pain won’t change anything – but my voice will, my action will and the love I have for people will. So I stay grateful and humble, in my little home that I won for myself in a battlefield. It’s so much more than just a home to me. It truly is my safety, my stability, my confidence to succeed, my belief in myself. My home is the embodiment of me winning that war in which I fought so hard. I will carry those scars for life.
As we reach the end of an eventful year, I’m looking forward to Christmas. I’ve only had a positive relationship with Christmas since last year, when things started looking up for me in my life. I do enjoy parts of the festive season, but there are stressful elements to it as well.
My heart goes out to young people in similar situations who don’t have a place to call home or a family to call their own. Gifts, love and laughter. To feel warmth, and to experience that glistening twinkle you get in your eye when you see beautiful decorations and hear Christmas music.
Christmas is, of course, a fantasy glamourised by films and the media. Nonetheless, the complicated feelings associated with this time of year are very real, and I know that staff try hard to recreate that feeling for the young people at Centrepoint, but it will never be quite the same as feeling as if you belong.
I suppose more than anything, having my own home has allowed me to shift my mentality towards the people in my life. I am no longer the one in need of help and support, but rather I can support them. I can show up differently this year. I know that I am my own support system now.
My house is already decorated in my own little quirky style. I live on my own and I don’t have children so I won’t be wasting any money on decorations this year. Being festive is more of a feeling I like to create: the feeling of hope, sending the energy of love out to all people, particularly those who need it most. I will probably go to some Christmas markets, and visit my family and my partner’s family over the Christmas period, so I’m sure I’ll get my good fix of Christmas sparkle within their homes.
Want to know more about Jamie? Read her Real Story here.