Here, Nicoleta from our Roma Rough Sleeping team tells the story of one of our clients, Elena and how we supported her.
Elena is one of our clients; we’ve worked with her since November 2019. I met her for the first time on a shift I was doing with my dear colleague, Adrian from SOS Westminster. She used to sleep on the corner, close to Marble Arch in Hyde Park, on the cement. I remember her refusing to go to the doctor although Adrian was so worried about what appeared to be an ear infection.
Later, the same year, she approached me while I was with a group of Roma in the park. She was offered accommodation with Glassdoor as it was the second lockdown, but she refused. She heard my name from other Romani woman I was working with and who had high health needs, too. She had heard good things about me from these other Romani women. I am smiling while writing this down!
My colleague Mania and I spoke in Romany with her all the time, and we found out that her Romany nickname is Cometa, which means Comet.
The definition of Comet is a celestial object consisting of a nucleus of ice and dust and, when near the sun, a ‘tail’ of gas and dust particles pointing away from the sun. This definition embodies the personality of Elena, the power she holds inside and both her warmth and iced attitudes toward her disease, life and us, too.
She was diagnosed with a degenerative disease, and we witnessed too the deterioration of her health, month after month. We became her support network here, outraged by the way the system has treated her sometimes, but sticking with her.
We have learned from her, like in mirror or a movie, what is to be born a woman, Roma in Romania, choices she made, and changes in social status. We have learned the pain of a mother who can’t see her children as she is not fit for travel anymore. But, at the same time, we have been amazed by her immense determination and her trust in us, that she will penetrate the system and will enjoy her rights here.
Her doctor told us that we saved her life when Mania brought her to the hospital for her brain surgery. A surgery she decided to have, which is a sign she trusts us and doctors here even though her family was very reluctant as she was not home with them.
Our Cometa has taught us many lessons, as human beings, as women, and each time I feel down she comes as a light in my thoughts and tells me to hold on.
She is the first Romany woman rough sleeper with pre-settled status that passed the Care Act Assessment, after nine months of going back and forth with Adult Social Services.
She is proof that it is not impossible to work with Roma clients. She is proof that, if we listen to the human stories and break all our prejudices, we may find wonderful, surprising people who will make a strong and lasting impression on our lives.