Growing up, I lived in Hounslow, then I went into care and moved around. When I was older, I got my own flat, but I wasn’t ready. I had a few parties, the neighbours complained, and I was evicted.
I went to the council, but they told me I wasn’t a priority. I knocked on my dad’s house and said I had nowhere to go, but he shut the door in my face. And that’s how I ended up having to sleep on the streets at 22 years old.
Being on the streets, the days go by and by and by, and it’s just the same stuff every day. You think, where am I gonna go? I used to sleep behind the police station in Hounslow to keep safe. I slept in the park a few times. I even stayed in an empty house before it was demolished. During the day, I’d sit on the tube for 24 hours, riding back and forth from Cockfosters to Heathrow.
The scariest part was in the park at nighttime, there were no lights so it would be absolutely pitch black. I’d be so scared because you couldn’t see anything and I could hear noises.
As a woman, it’s 100% different. You get a lot of people offering you money for sexual favours. I used to tell them no, even though I needed the cash. But people would approach me for that quite often. Some men out there, they’ll see a vulnerable woman and use that to their advantage. I’ve seen it happen to people and it’s not nice.
A girl I knew, she was controlled by this man and he ended up sexually exploiting her. It was a bad situation. I kept telling her to leave him, but she was in love and wouldn’t listen to anyone. She said he’ll change, but they all say that, and they don’t change.
There was one lady who saw me as a daughter. She stayed on the streets with me – even though she had a house to go back to – because she didn’t want to leave me by myself.
I thank her for that all the time. She protected me because she was a lot bigger and she knew Hounslow. She’s streetwise. You’ve got certain people who know about the streets. Who’ve been on the streets. She’s that type of person.
One day, we bumped into one of her friends. She said “I’ve got a 22 year old here, can you help her?” That’s when I went and lived in the squat. It was fantastic, compared to the streets. It had electricity and hot water. But it wasn’t really safe, because obviously there was a lot of drug users doing heroin and crack. I started using crack too, because I saw everyone else doing it, and I’m easily led. In the space of two months I lost so much weight, I didn’t look healthy. I’m not proud of it.
Things changed when I was stopped and searched by the police. They told me I was wanted for something to do with a previous conviction, and I was arrested and sent to prison for six weeks.
When I came out, a prison officer met me outside. They took me to the council and explained my situation, and because I had that authority with me, they placed me in temporary accommodation.
I stayed there for a bit, but I was getting bullied, so I went back to the council. Soon after, a St Mungo’s worker called me. I can’t remember her name, but she was lovely. She said “we got a place for you.” So that’s how I came to be with St Mungo’s. They supported me. They got me some clothes, they got me some food and they said “You’re safe now.”
That’s what St Mungo’s do they keep people safe. Which is good because there are a lot of females that are homeless and people don’t know about them.
Whilst I was staying with St Mungo’s, I fell pregnant with my son, and had to move out. I tried my best for six months but social services said it wasn’t enough. I had to leave him, which was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. St Mungo’s welcomed me back at their service and really supported me, and when I had to serve another four weeks in prison last September, they visited me in prison, kept my room for me and even arranged a taxi to pick me up.
I do feel safe with St Mungo’s, because I’ve got staff to talk to if I feel depressed. If I feel down, I’ll think, come on, let’s go to the shop. Let’s get some food. Let’s do a cooking session – just to boost me up. Yesterday I cooked lasagna for the whole house. Home made garlic bread, which was a first for me, but it was easy. I didn’t realise how easy it was! I might make it again. I love cooking. I’m getting counselling too, to talk about my son, and the adoption process that’s happening with him.
I’m 29 now, and when I’ve left here, I want to do an apprenticeship to become a support worker. I want to help – because I’ve been through it all. I’ve been through self harm. I’ve been through drug abuse. I’ve been through the care system. So I reckon I’d be a good support worker, because I’ve been there. I’d be a very good advocate. Especially as a woman who’s been through homelessness.
Sophia’s Story was shared as part of our International Women’s Day campaign #MungosVisibleWomen.