'For food, I'd just beg or dumpster-dive' – A middle-aged man tells of the horrors he faced when he was abandoned to sleep on the streets of England's south coast
- Paul has found it difficult to find work as he has gotten older
- Catalogue of misfortune resulted in the middle-aged man being made homeless
- He became so desperate, he resorted to sleeping in shop doorways and eating out of bins
- Tells of being regularly attacked or even urinated on
After the B&B he was staying in closed unexpectedly, Paul was evicted and ended up sleeping rough. Stock image of model
Beaten Up as He Slept
There are a number of places where rough sleepers bed down for the night on the streets of Paignton: shop doorways; the seafront; the gaps between the beach huts. Former homeless man Paul (whose name has been changed for reasons of confidentiality) has used all three.
‘If it was a shop-front,’ he explains, ‘You’d have to be half-awake, half-asleep because people would come up and wee all over you or kick you. For food, I'd just beg or dumpster-dive. You had to be ‘street-aware,’ if there is such a thing.’
"I ended up on the streets because I didn't have anywhere else to go."
Only One Place to Go
Despite the preconceived notions many of our society appear to have about homeless people, and how they ended up on the streets, Paul’s is a tale of grave misfortune, rather than self-inflicted misery.
The 53-year-old first came to Paignton with his partner 17 years ago. ‘I was working at the time,’ he recalls, ‘I moved down with a partner and we split – I decided to stay down here and moved into a B&B. I lived there for eight years, but it was closed down by the council.
‘I moved into another one and spent another seven-and-a-half years there,’ he continues. ‘The landlord sold the property without letting the people who were living there know so we ended up getting evicted.'
Unemployed, turfed out of his accommodation and with nobody to turn to, there was only one place for Paul to go.
‘I ended up on the streets because I didn’t have anywhere else to go.’
With no fixed abode and no idea where his next meal was coming from, Paul appeared doomed to a life of struggling to survive.
"I didn't want to know anybody – I didn't talk to anybody."
He Just Sat in the Corner
After spending two months on the streets, at the mercy of passers-by, and facing a very uncertain future, Paul was pointed in the direction of The Haven, a charity-run facility which provides a variety of services to homeless and vulnerable people, operating in the centre of Paignton. His experience of homelessness had clearly had a negative effect on his emotional wellbeing.
‘The first time I turned up to The Haven,’ he remembers, ‘I didn’t want to know anybody. I didn’t talk to anybody – I just sat in the corner with a cup of tea.’
That was earlier this year; in May. Just over six months on and the contrast is incredible.
‘It’s all positive now,’ Paul enthuses. ‘They helped me get a one-bedroom flat, they’ve helped me furnish it and I’m a volunteer here now: I work in the kitchen; I work on the phones; help with the computer; and help in the clothes room.’
There are a Lot of Regular Faces Out There
Founded almost 20 years ago in 1998, The Haven relies entirely on kind donations from the churches and public of Paignton. It provides everything from a listening ear and a cup of tea to telephone and computer access so those it helps can contact housing and other agencies.
Whether it’s used as a place to have mail delivered for those without a front door or simply somewhere to get a hot shower, The Haven has been there for those who need it for almost two decades, and intends to continue to be so for as long as there is a need for it, and public support continues to be generous.
When asked if he thinks there is a real issue with homelessness in and around Paignton, Paul is unequivocal in his response. ‘Yeah, there is,’ he says. ‘They travel between Paignton and Torquay – if they’re bored with Torquay, they come to Paignton and if those who are on the streets in Paignton are bored, they go up to Torquay.
‘There are some changing faces but there a lot more regular faces out there.’
Number of rough sleepers in England (not including London) increased by 21% between 2015 and 2016.
It would appear then that The Haven’s work is far from done. Fortunately, the staff at the facility are more than willing to help. Starting life as a Christian library run by Reverend Paula Meyer, The Haven is now run by husband-and-wife team Rachel and Mark – offering a vast array of services, despite its very humble appearance.
‘We are not practising Christians ourselves,’ explains Rachel, ‘But believe actions speak louder than words. The project offers a shower, TV lounge, games room, office for phone and computer use, clothes room, a kitchen and food parcel service. We visit clients in hospital or new accommodation and help source furniture, listen to distress and speak with social workers or addiction specialists.’
With so many services offered, it’s no wonder that people like Paul feel so indebted to The Haven.
One of the Lucky Ones
Paul is one of the lucky ones. He has been rescued and spared the terrifying reality of a life on the streets. The fact that facilities such as The Haven are still needed in 2017 Great Britain, however, is shocking and saddening. While there is even one person sleeping rough on our streets, not knowing where their next meal is going to come from, the fight to tackle homelessness will continue.
Paul, however, has no intention of going back to sleeping rough: ‘I have no intention of leaving The Haven as a volunteer,’ he says. ‘Now I’m older, finding work is more difficult but I’ll see if I can get a part-time job to work around that. I’ve had a few jobs: I’ve done bar work; I’ve worked in a kitchen; and in retail.’
It’s no surprise to hear Paul so adamant in his determination to continue volunteering at The Haven; it’s abundantly clear how grateful he is to the facility and its staff. When asked if the word ‘life-saver’ would be a fair description of what the facility has been to him, he answers with one word: ‘yes.’
Please help The Haven continue its vital work
The Haven provides life-saving services for other homeless or vulnerable people just like Paul. A safe space which provides everything from a cup of tea to support with any number of issues, it is a beacon of hope to those who may otherwise have none. Please help The Haven continue its important work.
Make a difference. Make a donation.