Our client Tracy shared her experiences of homelessness and coping during the pandemic with MPs on the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee last week. Alongside evidence from another St Mungo’s client, our Chief Executive Steve Douglas CBE and two other people with lived experience, her comments will be collated into a report to influence improvements to the current policies surrounding homelessness. She told us about her story and what it was like talking to the Committee.
When St Mungo’s first asked me if I would like to share my story with MPs, I was happy to do it but I was anxious because I worry that people who don’t know me will judge me.
28 years ago, I was just 22 years old and I had a nearly two year old son. I didn’t know it at the time but I was struggling with postnatal depression. I didn’t find out that I was pregnant until I was seven months along so I had seven weeks to go from being a teenager to all of a sudden, being responsible for a little baby.
Once he was born, my family were a huge support, always coming round to look after him – they sort of took over. I tried to look after him myself but I really struggled. I wanted to be a doting mum and I loved him, but I just didn’t have that maternal instinct or feel a bond between us. Back then, depression wasn’t talked about either so no-one knew I was suffering and I couldn’t get any help for it.
One day, my friend asked me if I wanted to go to London with her for the weekend so I asked my mum if she could look after my son for a couple of hours but I didn’t end up coming back. I met a group of people who were into drugs and so I became a heroin addict, doing sex work at night and sleeping under a bridge for 18 years. If I’d have known what I know now, that I was actually suffering with postnatal depression, I wouldn’t have come to London.
Some of my family still haven’t forgiven me for what I did so I still worry about how people will view my story today but I’ve come a long way, and if sharing my story changes someone’s opinion on how they see a homeless person, I would tell it every day and that is why I knew I had to share my story with MPs, the people who really can make a difference to how homeless people are treated.
I was so nervous and felt a bit of pressure but when the first MP started speaking and told us what we’d be discussing in the meeting, I felt at ease. Every single one of them was brilliant. They didn’t take their eyes off me while I was speaking and seemed to be totally intrigued at what I had to say. I felt like I was chatting with my peers, not MPs!
At the end, they told me it was hearing from people like me and the others who were also sharing their stories, that makes their reports so powerful, and then, they all started clapping which they apparently don’t usually do – that just blew it for me!
After the meeting, I got incredible feedback from my friends and family who’d watched, it felt like I was on this big pedestal. A lot of my friends don’t realise about how vulnerable I was so it moved them to tears. After watching, some of them said they were off to donate money to a homelessness charity – there’s not a better reaction than that for me.
Not everyone reacts like that though. There’s so much stigma around homelessness and sometimes, I think people forget that we are human beings – someone’s sister, someone’s daughter, someone’s mother. We didn’t wake up one day and think I want to become homeless.
There’s a famous saying that says ‘you’re only one wage packet away from becoming homeless’ and it’s true but with the right support, people can turn their life around and return to ‘normality’. I’ve been in recovery for ten years now, I’ve still got a way to go in terms of my mental health but I hope that by sharing my story, I will give others who are in a similar situation hope.