I became homeless after trying to rent a property that I found online. Everything seemed fine so I paid my deposit and first month’s rent. A week after I moved in, the police knocked on my door.
It turned out that the landlord was actually a squatter and was renting out the property illegally. The police didn’t offer me any support, they just told me I had to leave, and I lost the deposit and rent I’d paid.
I ended up sleeping under a stairwell
After I lost my flat I sofa surfed for a while, and then ended up sleeping under a stairwell in a friend’s building for four months. I was worried about other people in the building complaining to the council and getting my friend evicted, so sometimes I stayed outside. That scared me a lot. I remember spending a night on a park bench once, but it felt so dangerous I couldn’t sleep.
I had to quit my part-time job because of the travel costs, the stress of my situation and my depression – I just couldn’t keep it up. I was homeless for about eight months all in all. I kept going to the council for help but they just told me I didn’t qualify as a priority.
It got to the point where I was really depressed, suicidal even. I kept thinking, “I’ve got a degree, how did I get here?” It was so hard not having my family around.
I was scared of losing my dog Benjie
Mostly I was scared of losing Benjie. People didn’t understand how much he helped me cope with everything. I wanted to be a responsible dog owner and it didn’t feel right to keep moving him from place to place, but he was my only lifeline. He was the only thing keeping me going.
In November, as the weather was getting worse, my friend called StreetLink. They contacted the closest outreach team, who came and found me that same night. They took me and Benjie to No Second Night Out, a centre where St Mungo’s assess people who are homeless for the first time and find the best place for them to go.
When I explained how important it was for me to keep my dog with me, they were keen to find me a place that accepted pets. Eventually me and Benjie moved into St Mungo’s Pagnell Street hostel.
Now, I’m in my own place
Now, I’m in my own place. It’s amazing for Benjie – he’s got a whole garden to play in now, rather than being stuck in one room all the time. St Mungo’s helped a lot, because they really took the time to get to know me and understand my needs and wants. And thank God they accept pets! Because I don’t know where me and Benjie would be today otherwise.
I’ve been doing some therapy through their counselling programme LifeWorks, and it is really helping me. My depression and social anxiety have improved dramatically. I still struggle a bit, but I feel much better now that I’ve got my own place and I’m standing on my own two feet, and I’ve got affordable rent.
St Mungo’s is really heaven to me. It’s a place where I feel safe, and I can progress with my future, because I’ve got the right people guiding me.
One year later
We caught up with Charrissa in the run up to Christmas 2019 to see how she was doing one year after she shared her story.
Charrissa and Benjie have been joined by a pure Dalmation called Bella – and the two dogs get along well! Charrissa is hopeful for her future again. She is in the second year of her Masters degree in 3D animation and continues to volunteer with St Mungo’s.
“My ambition is to start my own business and make a mobile phone app. I went to St Mungo’s Recovery College and they gave me a mentor who has been helping me with my business plan. It’s been brilliant, and I feel like I’m achieving my goals one by one.”
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