Homeless Doesn’t Mean Cardboard Boxes.

Homeless Doesn’t Mean Cardboard Boxes.

I don’t have a lot of material goods.  I don’t own my home.  I’m not rich by even the wildest stretch of the imagination.  Yet I do have something in my life, which right now, is a lifeline to a friend of mine.  I have a two-seater, second hand, 15 year old sofa.  It’s the only seating in my house, except for wooden kitchen chairs.  We used to have a leather three piece suite…clawed and scratched up by a previous tenant’s cats, but serviceable.  It belonged to our old landlord, though.  When he sold the house from under us and evicted us with only four weeks notice, he refused to let us take the suite.  He wanted £200 for it.  It had cost £30 second hand.  So, we had only the kitsch old sofa I’d bought years ago.  It’s small, beaten, weathered and ugly as sin, according to my husband.  I bought it (and a three-seater which unfortunately died) as more of a joke than anything else.  It was in a charity shop window and it was so hideous I felt sorry for it.

Now, that old battered and beaten sofa is my friend’s new home.  I wrote before, about a friend made homeless due to bereavement.  That same friend has once again found himself with nowhere to turn.  Much as poverty is hidden, so is much of this country’s homeless.  My friend, who shall remain nameless, has numerous personal issues.  One of which is another ‘hidden’ and ‘shameful’ blight — depression.  He needs help, which is proving difficult to get.  Suicidal Ideation is present and, when he told his doctor he wanted to die, he was told he had to want to help himself before he could expect help to be given and to go back in two weeks.  Isn’t that lovely?  A homeless man, out of work, no close family, nowhere to turn, suicidal…told to go away and come back in two weeks.

My sofa isn’t the comfiest thing in the world.  It sags and can cripple anyone with a back injury.  But it is under a roof that can keep off the rain and it comes with love and an ear attached to it.  It also comes with a meal a day.  I will need to juggle and get creative, but that one extra mouth needs feeding, so fed it shall be.  Until we can jump through all the hoops of ESA/JSA, and get him some kind of benefits.  Until we can get council help in finding him a place where he shall not need to be able to produce a deposit, as well as one month’s rent and £150 in agency fees.  To be able to be housed, this man — homeless, without money, without savings and without, right now, hope — will need to find about £700.  To some, that sum will seem insignificant.  To those in his situation, it may as well be a million.

His is a world where, when benefits come to him, he shall be living on a pittance.  One so small, that when he gets a bedsit, charged at an extortionate rent, after he has paid utilities and bills, he shall be left with pennies to survive on.  They are pennies he is grateful for.  A small amount, but one he appreciates.  His health and mental state make work an impossibility.  This is his life and will likely stay his life.  It’s not one he would choose, but it is his and it is worth keeping.  Worth fighting for.

This is where friends rally around.  Where we will sit with him as he wades through the minefield of legal gumpf and fills out enough forms to fill a wheelie-bin.  We will be at his side to help him find a small, cramped, cheap bedsit.  We will find him items to cook with, so he can eat.  Right now, he has a duvet and clothes from his life ‘before’ it was all lost.  We shall prop him up whilst he is too weak to stand, and we shall cheer when he takes those first steps into a new future.  We will be there for him for as long as we are needed.

So will my small, insignificant, beaten up, battered, hideous old sofa.  Because this is the world of the hidden homeless, and that sofa will mean he is not vulnerable.  On the street, left to the elements and discarded from society like a worthless old bit of junk no-one wants in their life.  That sofa, as ugly as it is and as uncomfortable as it might be, is his new home.  The sofa is more than an item of furniture.  It is a promise that it will be there, to hold him safe at night and keep him warm and dry.  It means there is a roof, not the sky, above his head.  It means he is not alone.

It means there is hope.


I am a Fantasy Fiction author (too much ‘real’ in my life as it is, thank you) and my books are available on Amazon.  I am Independently Published — my ‘team’ are my friends.  My début novel ” Into The Woods” can be found HERE (UK) and HERE (rest of world).  Links to my Author Page and other books can be found through these links.  The paperback for Book #1 of the Searching For Eden series can be found HERE.  Book #2 shall be available shortly.

“These people are not scroungers and they are not lazy” – an interview with Kathleen Kerridge

When blogger Kathleen Kerridge clicked “submit”, she had no idea what she had let herself in for.

“I had no idea of the storm that was about to be unleashed. Day two brought over a quarter-million people to my article and the responses were so heartfelt and honest that I was left reeling. Thousands upon thousands of people, in exactly the same predicament, began messaging me, emailing me and finding my Facebook page. Literally thousands. It was a constant stream of cries for help, offers of support, asking for advice, giving advice, telling me there was help, support networks being formed…”

Kerridge had written a post entitled “The Upsetting Reality of Modern Day Poverty” (read it here). In it she describes, in heart-breaking detail, the difficulty of feeding a household of five on a budget of just £45 per week. She decided to speak out after watching celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s show…

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Do You Care…Or Are You Aware? Campaigning For Change in Mental Health Care.

Do You Care…Or Are You Aware?  Campaigning For Change in Mental Health Care.


Guest Blogger, Sam Ward, Questions Awareness Campaigns, and Their Effectiveness…


 

In the interest of breaking the stigma, and taking the advice of Hemingway, I’m going to “write hard and clear about what hurts.” Mental illness hurts. It hurts those directly affected, it hurts their family, their friends, and it hurts us all as a society.

Lately we have seen the long overdue beginnings of recognition. National campaigns, such as Time to Change and The Guardian’s ‘Let’s talk mental health’, and more local campaigns, are starting to raise awareness and educate people of the severity and size of the situation.

Awareness is important. Without it, nothing can change. But like each viral craze on the internet, awareness can be everywhere one week and nowhere the next. How many of the people who poured a bucket of iced water on their head are still campaigning or raising money for Motor Neurone disease? How many of us are still talking about Ebola…much less helping?

Awareness is something easy to give. It takes little to no effort. Here lies the success and failure of awareness campaigns. They achieve great results because they ask so little of people but they will always fall short because they receive so little long term support. Awareness is passive participation.

Awareness alone doesn’t help the people who would do almost anything not to go home; those who curl up and lose their days to TV shows they don’t even like; the parents at their wit’s end because they don’t know know to help their mentally ill children; the parents that are at their wit’s end because they don’t know how to cope any longer, but hang on anyway like a suspension bridge losing one wire at a time; the people trapped between isolation and the immobilising terror of social anxiety; or those who live with a constant sorrow and vague dread.

Of course, in time, awareness becomes acceptance, and in time that leads to incremental change; but for anyone suffering now, that is too late. It’s not about stopping these campaigns, or criticising them, this is about making sure we kick off from the start they give us and really work to make change happen.

The best example I can give to support what I’m saying is to talk about loneliness. Loneliness is a consuming, bitter black treacle. It is also something familiar to many with  mental health issues. We all sort of know that we are becoming more lonely and isolated even as we plug ourselves into the internet ‘connection’. Social Media might allow us to talk, but it also lets social interaction and – for many – anxiety, invade our personal space. If I were to launch an awareness campaign about loneliness and millions of people started talking about it, would it eradicate loneliness?  I don’t think it would, because even though loneliness doesn’t need billions of pounds or huge changes to infrastructure to overcome, it still requires honest, long-term commitment from us all.

Talking about mental health, and loneliness, on social media or face to face does brilliantly to unite people, de-mystify it all, and present a truer picture of the state of things . We need to encourage it to become the norm. But we shouldn’t be forced to rely on each other for all of our support. If you have Cancer, talking to someone with Cancer can be comforting and the shared experience can give strength, but you wouldn’t be expected to administer each other’s chemotherapy or remove each other’s tumours.

I sought medical help for depression once. I wasn’t so much as offered an informal chat. I was given small prescriptions for anti-depressants and told to come back in regularly. The outcomes were always the same only the doctors had changed. Each time a new face to whom you had to explain (again) the intimate details of how you felt and how you lived. The drugs didn’t work. They didn’t work in the doses given so I took them in batches. I drank upwards of three litres a day of cheap cider or wine. I had no internet, no smart phone. I had a freezing bed-sit with no heating, a hair-dryer, and a few books. The drugs weren’t working. I went to tell this to a doctor, whichever it may be.

Once I had told this new doctor, a Hungarian man, about my worsening situation he started asking me some slightly probing but compassionate questions. I thought this was the beginning of something better, some actual treatment. I answered the questions as honestly as I dared and the doctor paused. He then went on to tell me the condensed tale of how his grandparents, along with his infant parents, had managed to escape from a concentration camp during the Holocaust. He told me of their resolve and their hope, but most of all he referred to their grit. Then he doubled my prescription strength, handed me the slip, and advised me that it was my choice whether or not to take the pills, but he advised not. It was the closest to a professional ‘man up’ you can get.

I walked past the pharmacy and I felt like shit. His family escaped the Nazis and there I was…and here I am ill. I never did put in that prescription. I changed alcohol for weed, which in the short term was better. I self-medicated and to this day have gone without the long term support I need.

What I want to say is, that whether you are taking part in the poorly named “It’s okay to not be okay” campaign at the University of Portsmouth, or posting on social media, or even just talking about mental health, don’t stop there. To quote mental health nurse turned novelist Nathan Filer, mental health care is “an utter, God-awful mess” in Britain. It is going to take more than awareness to fix it.

Written by Sam Ward


More of Sam’s writing can be found here!


Sketches of The University Interlude

My Fluid Self: My search for a narrative

In Gil Scott-Heron’s autobiography there are scattered poems, new and old. Unsurprising given who he was. But reading them was surprising. It was pleasing to see rhythm that grew from the page and didn’t fit into, or get trapped by, the guarded confines of poetic metering. The structures of the poems were precisely aligned with their meaning and tone. I thought then about his effortlessness in pitching the self as a photo negative of larger conditions. I hoped then, and still do, that I would find a coterminous instinct in my writing. I read the poems and I tried to bounce in loose synapses of a private silence a few improvised lines. A few prototype rhymes of mimicry. The first step is to master the masters and then create, or so an artist probably said according to a motivational meme. Those words that shot up like fireworks soon dissipated that…

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Disconnect The Poor In The Internet Age

Disconnect The Poor In The Internet Age

The Internet Is Not A Luxury.  It needs to be said before we go any further.

If you have children, they need it for homework and studies.  They need it to send in assignments and to keep up to date with coursework.  “Libraries!” I hear some of you shouting, “Go to an Internet Cafe!”  All well and good, but for a lot of people, their nearest library is in the centre of their town or city and would mean a two mile walk each way.  Sometimes more.  The walk would have to be done daily after school–because buses are not cheap and feet are free.  This is, of course, after leaving the house at 7:30am, walking the half an hour to school in all weathers and putting in a full day of studying.  Internet Cafes’ charge for the privilege of using the computers.  It is not a viable option for most.

To not have the internet at home, a child from a poor family would have to stay out of the family home for approximately (in our case and based on the distances my daughter walks to school) another three hours.  She would not get home until around 7pm at night…and would have to walk in the dark, through a not-exactly-great area of the city (neither myself or my husband drive; we cannot afford a car…and cannot afford the lessons anyway).  Meg is a straight A student.  She dreams of university life and becoming a doctor.  It is all she has wanted to do since she was four years old.  At just turned sixteen, she keeps a relentless study schedule.  She works from 8.00am through to 9.00pm as it is.  At home, she is safe, [mostly]warm and can eat her dinner as she studies.

The Internet Is Essential.  We are told the way to lift ourselves high and achieve riches untold, is to be well-educated and get a professional career.  Are only the children of the comfortable and the rich allowed to follow this dream?  Are the children of the poor to be raised with the depressing knowledge in their young heads that their lot in life is to serve the children of the rich?  To clean, and sweep and toil and slave, with no hope of realising their aspirations and dreams…because school work now requires an internet connection, to get the best education available.  Each time a struggling family is told their internet is a luxury, they are told their children do not deserve the access to it in the home.  They are told their children should be thankful for their lot, and stay in the ‘place’ they were born.

There are disabled people, housebound and alone for weeks on end.  They do not have the option of walking the two miles (or more) to their library, to be able to sit down and make some contact with relatives living apart from them.  To see pictures of their newest little cousins, or a new grandchild.  They cannot spare the money from their living allowances or benefits to use an internet cafe.  To say to them that the Internet is a luxury they can do without, to save money, is to isolate them and cage them in their loneliness.  The quality of life of the elderly and infirm increases dramatically, if they are taught to use a computer, laptop or even a smart-phone, and can access and utilise the web.  Depression caused by isolated living is lifted, just a little.  Shopping can be done, friends spoken with, people contacted, programmes watched.  The Internet is essential.  That they need to choose between eating, heating, or human contact is appalling, and they should not be expected to make that choice.

Job seekers are told, by the Job Centre, to apply for an initial interview online.  School Admittance Forms? Fill them out online.  Best grocery offers?  Online.  Job searching?  Property rental?  Council Housing Register?  You’ve guessed it–it’s all online.

Is it reasonable, therefore, to look at the poorest sections of our society and tell them to save money–sometimes as little as £6.99 a month–by getting rid of their internet.  Are we, as a society, so judgemental that we believe those in the poorest households must sit in the dark, without a television, without a computer, without communication?  Is that what we have become, now, thanks to the portrayal of poverty in the media?  To take away the web, is to disconnect more than Google.  It is to disconnect ourselves.


If you are affected by any of these issues and would like to chat, or ask for help, please do contact my Facebook page HERE.  I answer all messages that come through to me and will always try to point you in the right direction if you need help/advice.

The Graduate Trap

An Interesting Perspective of The University Path.

My Fluid Self: My search for a narrative

I graduated but I didn’t attend graduation. I had made the choice long before then that I wasn’t to be cajoled by sentiment into paying out yet more money I didn’t have to attend pomp. Instead, I rewarded myself for battling up through the tumult of Portsmouth’s hostel system – a web of housing associations and halfway-houses harder to ride out to a successful conclusion than an evening alone with Amnesia: The Dark Descent – and visited Granada, Spain. It may have been, in hindsight, a luxury too late and money misplaced to indulge my fancies so close to the end of my undergraduate lifeline.

As the day of my graduation loomed, the contents of my bank withered and the possibility of a late moment of caprice was revoked. Graduation, at least from an undergraduate degree, would be an experience to pass me by. Thankfully, I was granted a small…

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There Are No Right Words.

On Grief, Loss and Bad News…

We have all had that call.  The one that comes out of the blue and shifts our world to a new, unknown, place.  The call that might not be totally unexpected, but suddenly rips the life raft of hope from our hands.  It leaves us floundering, drowning.  Facing a future in which our life is changed irrevocably.  Forever.

I have received that call.  I would do anything to have never had it.  To have not heard those words.  “…is dead.”  “…won’t make it.”  “Nothing can be done.”  “At least there’s time to say goodbye.” I think we have all heard them, by the time the threshold of ‘mid-thirties’ is passed.  Death becomes a way of life as we say goodbye to grandparents, parents, family and friends.

As age creeps up on me, the calls become more common.  The pain remains as rare.  The sense of injustice never changes, nor does the futile hope the doctors are wrong.  Medicine will work.  A cure found, a life saved, grief averted.  Life will carry on and that one person shall still be at the end of a phone.  I will always be able to call them.  Tell them how much I love them.  Laugh with them and hold them close.

Until I can’t.  The call comes and life changes.

It’s natural to want to scream and deny the reality.  But we can’t be ‘selfish’; there are others affected.  Spouses, children, parents, family, cousins…the list seems endless.  There are, quite swiftly, no words that can be said and no way to take away or ease the pain of all those who shall be left behind.  As the grief builds there’s no right thing to say.  There is no right way to deliver the news; no right way to receive it.

No right way to be the one left dying, surrounded by dozens, maybe hundreds, of people who have to face a new altered future.  That has to be as hard, if not harder.  Being the one knowing time is nearly up, knowing it’s time to leave.  Not being able to stop what is going to happen.

Age, in this case, gives no answers.  Death, as ever, gives no dignity.  To be told we are losing someone hurts.  It cuts into a heart and saws at emotion with a serrated blade.  We put down the phone, we sit, stunned, and we try and adjust to the news we have been given.  Be it a friend we grew up with, a friend we made at work, a friend we have slowly grown close to through the internet…none of that matters.  The grief is still real.  Still there, choking us.

Reflection brings memories.  At first they hurt.  It’s easier, less painful, to push them away.  A flash of a smile can bring us to our knees, crying afresh.  Eventually, though, they bring comfort.  We welcome them and hoard them.  We make them, knowing that we are planning for the day their face, voice, words, aren’t there for us.

We say goodbye, slowly.  Knowing the end is coming, we build our future and pray we have enough memories to pull out and examine, when they are needed.  We stand, wait, hope, help, love…all the while knowing there are no right words.  There is nothing that can be said.  Nothing to ease the weight of loss.  We hold each other and cry, laugh, smile and remember.  We visit funeral parlours, choose music, plan wakes…making sure everything is ‘just so’.

Or we wave goodbye as an ancient V.W Camper is packed to the roof with painkillers, clothes and quilts, holding back our tears as that final adventure is embarked on.  We might be privileged enough to be party to the Bucket List and grin at the thought of paddling in the icy waters of Morecambe, eating potted shrimps from a pot; watching a sunrise in the Scottish Highlands; being in the presence of The Gutenberg Bible; just holding hands and watching the tide come in…small things that will leave memories.

There are no right words.  There is no right way to say goodbye.  Yet we manage to speak silently and express every word we need to say, without uttering a sound.

And we remember.