This time last year, former St Mungo’s client, Ian, was sleeping rough on the streets of Westminster, where he had slept since October 2015. Today, he is living in his own studio flat in Isleworth, a place he can finally call home. One year on from the first national lockdown in March 2020, he reflects on how the past year has been.
At the beginning of 2020, I was sleeping in St James’s Park, I’d been living there for four years. One day, the police came over and said I shouldn’t be sleeping there because it’s a royal park. I knew that really, so I packed up my stuff and pitched my tent elsewhere. It was time to move on.
Not long after, I was in my new sleeping spot, when a group of people who slept nearby came over to me and said ‘have you heard what’s happening? St Mungo’s are putting all the homeless people up in a hotel!’ I looked at them and said ‘yeah right, don’t be silly!’ but they insisted ‘no they really are, we’re going down there tomorrow, wanna come with us?’ The next day, we all jumped on a bus (for free!) and were driven to a hotel near Victoria. Not before long, I found myself with a nice private room, my own shower and was being provided with three meals a day. I had been so thin when I first arrived at the hotel but soon enough, I started to gain weight again – it was brilliant.
Back then, I didn’t really know what Covid was. I’d heard about it from various people and I knew it was a virus but there’s always been viruses about so I just assumed it would blow over a week or two later, and then we’d have to go back to the streets. About two weeks into my stay, I was told I would be staying for a few more months, then April came and they said ‘It’ll be another few months yet!’ I thought to myself ‘well this is alright!’ I couldn’t quite believe it.
One morning in May, one of the hotel workers told me she’d found me a studio flat and asked whether I’d like to go and see it. She warned me that it wasn’t guaranteed until the landlord accepted my application but I simply replied ‘they’ll accept me, don’t you worry!’ We went to see it and a few weeks later, I got the call to say it was mine – I was so excited!
When I first moved in, I didn’t have much but some friends that I met online gave me some furniture to get me started. On that first day, I did have a bit of a disaster though – I went to the shops to get a few bits and on my way back I noticed there was a hole in my coat pocket. My house keys, bank card and bus card had all fallen out so I had to walk back but I didn’t know how to find the place so I kept on getting lost! It took me two hours in total, and I was carrying a load of heavy shopping too. I never did find my stuff, it’s still on the high street somewhere. When I eventually got home, the guy upstairs called the locksmiths for me and sorted it – the whole thing was a bit embarrassing!
Now I have somewhere to come home to every night, a roof over my head – it’s great. I have my very own cooker, fridge washing machine, central heating and a nice, big bath too. I even have an iron and a fat fryer! At the moment I have curtains up but I’m going to treat myself to some blinds; I’m slowly making it a home. The place is in a lovely and quiet area – I can’t hear the traffic – just a fox creeping about sometimes, he’s very loud! I spend most my days listening to music and watching films – you can get DVDs from my local Asda for just £1!
When I was living on the streets in London, I used to hold up a sign telling everyone who walked by ‘don’t worry, be happy and smile because you are amazing’. I think I was sent there by someone to give out that message to people who needed to hear it. I always knew my time on the streets would come to an end at the right time and now is that time. I’m not sure how much longer I would have lasted on the streets anyway, I’m nearly 66, so I’m very happy with how things have turned out for me.