When the relationship with her mother broke down at age 15, Mari was told that she shouldn’t return home. Her friend’s mum, who was a social worker, arranged for Mari to stay with her sister who had become estranged from her mum many years previously.
Unfortunately, things didn’t work out with her sister because her child benefit was affected. She gave Mari a day to get out.
Feeling desperately alone with no money and no idea what to do, Mari took the day off school. In the back of a newspaper she saw an advertisement for Centrepoint. She called the number and was told that they could help her if she came to the hostel. “I had never been outside of my local area on my own. I’d only ever travelled to school and back. I didn’t know where I was going,” she recalls.
Mari took a train to central London. When she arrived it was starting to get dark. “I was standing by where I know to be Charing Cross Rd. It was before the days of mobile phones and I had no idea where I was or where I needed to go. I remember asking a taxi driver where to go and he told me it would cost me about £5. I told him I didn’t have any money and he looked at the address again and must have realised where it was that I was going and he told me to hop in and took me right there. If it hadn’t have been for him, I might never have made it,” she says.
When Mari arrived at Centrepoint, the staff at the hostel managed to make a space for her, even though they were full. “The whole experience made me grow up overnight. I had nothing – no clothes, no bags. They provided me with luncheon vouchers so that I could buy food every day. They also helped me to claim for benefits and move forward,” Mari says.
Mari stayed at that Centrepoint for about 13 weeks and in that time, another organisation Alone in London were working with Centrepoint and social services to find her accommodation nearer to her school. “I was in the middle of my GCSEs. Eventually they managed to sort it so that I was put in a hotel in Croydon and that’s when I left Centrepoint. Unfortunately for me, my school hadn’t entered me for my GCSEs so I was unable to take them. I was at the hotel on my own for about a year,” she recalls.
A support network
For Mari, Centrepoint offered her more than just a roof over her head at a difficult time. “It enabled me to meet people in similar positions and I didn’t feel so ostracised. If I’d gone back to school I would have felt really isolated. I made quite a few friends. I eventually moved out of the hotel into a flat share with some of the other residents.”
“One of the girls I’d stayed with at Centrepoint, helped me find my first job in the London Trocadero. There was an Elvis shop and she was a sign holder and she helped me get that job and I was able to earn a bit of pocket money. At the age of 19 and a half, I finally got my own place from the council. It was a long time and it wasn’t easy, but I got there. If I didn’t have people around me to support me, it would have been so much harder,” she says.
If Mari were to offer any advice from the experience she went through, it would be to say: “Whatever you are going through now, it’s not going to be all there is. You have to believe in more for yourself because if you don’t, you’re never going to make the changes to succeed. Nobody else can do that for you. You need to believe in yourself otherwise it’s so hard to move on from a situation.”
“If it hadn’t have been for Centrepoint, I don’t know what I would have done. Not only did they give me a roof over my head, but also the people I met there, I was able to lean on several years later until I had my own little support group – my husband and his family,” she says.
Mari is now married with three daughters and a son. She was working for a charitable housing association and is now training to become a teacher. “Everything I’ve done in my life is because of my own experience and wanting to put something back. I’ve had to empower myself and I know how difficult that is and I want to help other people now that I’m in a better position.”