‘Becoming homeless can happen to everyone at anytime’

Becoming homeless is a difficult experience
Photo of a young woman (Dmytro Tolokonov)

In a series of interviews with inspirational women in the North East, a young woman and mother, Rachel (fake name), tells us her experience of becoming homeless and the false stereotypes behind homelessness.

How Rachel ended up being homeless could be the perfect story of the mystery shows she enjoys watching. Rachel, 24, is one of the many examples of how unfortunate situations can make young women become homeless and live in the streets.

After giving birth, Rachel decided to leave her job and take care of her daughter. Her lack of experience managing money with a little child caused her having debts and being evicted of her house. Rachel’s grandmother has taken care of her while she is finding a new job and place to stay.

Being homeless had a very negative impact on her mental health. She started to have anxiety and panic attacks. Rachel is currently taking medication to deal with her anxiety.

After many calls and meetings, Rachel managed to find temporary accommodation at YMCA in North Tyneside. Now, she is taking a course to study a degree in Criminology or Business at the university.

Rachel said that sharing her story could bring hope to many young homeless women in the streets. She tells us that her situation is the best example of how anyone, no matter the background or condition, can become homeless and live in the streets at anytime.

1. Did you feel threatened when you were at risk of becoming homeless?

I didn’t feel threatened. However, being at risk homelessness had a very negative impact on my mental health. I was very anxious and started to have panic attacks. Now, I am dealing better with these issues because of my medication.

When you are facing those situations, you don’t have any control over yourself. I really struggled to deal with my problems. When I am thinking now about that situation, I don’t even know how I was able to find a roof where I can be safe.

I was very lucky when YMCA offered a flat to live in. Their support has been essential for me, otherwise, I would be living in the streets.

2. Do you think women are more vulnerable when becoming homeless?

They are more vulnerable than men. Compared to homeless men, women are more at risk when they end up living in the streets. From my point of view, one of the reasons for this is because some women don’t have the strength or encourage that men might have.

When I experienced that fear, I felt very lost and scared. I didn’t know what to do when someone tries to attack me, for example, or where to go to ask for help.

Nevertheless, there are many women who are very brave and able to defend themselves. In general terms, I think that men can deal better than women when they are living in the streets.

3. What about young women? Are they more vulnerable?

They are completely vulnerable. Adults have more experience and know somehow how to get the support they need. The lack of experience of many young women makes that they are more vulnerable when becoming homeless.

Many of them don’t have any information about where they must go and seek for help. They are not able to defend themselves if something bad happens to them when living in the streets.

4. What would you recommend to young women who are experiencing homelessness?

I would tell them that they must ask for help as much as they can. When young women are at risk of becoming homeless, they need to tell everyone about their situation. Many people are willing to help them.

Based on my personal experience, the only reason why I didn’t become homeless because I talked to everyone about my situation.  I met and rang as many people as I could and told them that I was going to become homeless.

Fortunately, I found someone who was working for the charity and this person gave me the contacts of organisations that could give me a place to live.

Young women at risk of being homeless need to try as hard as they can to have a better life.

5. Do you think that young vulnerable women receive enough support in the North East?

I don’t think that the support for young women is enough. We also need to think that this support is going to be given to the person who is asking for it.

I don’t believe that many homeless people in the region are homeless because they haven’t asked for that help. Many of them don’t have the opportunity to access to what they really need.

I think that the situation for young homeless women is much harder than adults. When I was evicted from my house, I went to the council and told them my situation.

They told me that I wasn’t ‘priority’ because my daughter had a place to stay with her grandmother. Because of I identified myself as a single homeless person without a child, I didn’t receive any support

The only option that the council gave me was their ‘stop night’ program where they find you a place to stay over the night. However, I think that it doesn’t help in long-term for many young women who are at risk of being homeless.

6. Is there any specific area that needs to be improved to offer homeless people a better life?

I believe that housing and support are the most important areas for homeless people. Giving homeless people the opportunity to have a basic credit and support could prevent them from living in the streets.

7. How did you get involve with YMCA?

Shelter knew about my situation and they spoke with YMCA. After a few days, YMCA contacted me directly to offer me a provisional accommodation and support to have a better life.

The support that many charities provide to many young homeless people is essential for them, but I believe that more needs to be done.

Without YMCA I don’t know where I would be. They have given me support to manage my money properly and live independently. I have also learned the different contracts and tenancy in the UK which is very helpful when you start looking for a house. This information gives us a better idea of what we are going to face in the future.

8. Your profile is not the typical image the public has about a homeless person…

Many people have told me the same thing. When thinking about homelessness, we need to avoid the typical stereotypes.

Everyone has problems in their life. Some might have the risk of losing everything and become homeless. Being homeless can happen to everyone at any time. It doesn’t depend on your family, background, or your career.

Perhaps, some people who are very successful now they might become homeless in the future. Sometimes it also depends on being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

9. How would you like to help young vulnerable women?

Sharing my story could be very helpful for them. I am currently collaborating with YMCA as a room sponsor. Our goal is to raise the alarm about the issues that many young vulnerable women are facing in the region.

The council and local authorities should give more support to every young woman who is at risk of becoming homeless. They need to see and understand the stories of many young homeless women to make the changes to improve their life.

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