A few months before I became homeless, when I reached the peak of my breakdown, I hadn’t spoken to anyone I knew for around five months. Before that I only really had spoken to my sister and a few friends via messenger for several months. I was on sick leave from work, I’d lost my friendships due to my mental health making me a difficult person to remain in contact with. When I lost my job, I stopped speaking to my sister and decided to end my life when my money ran out.
What this meant practically was that when support services became involved, I had no-one. My next of kin was my GP as I did not want to re-establish relationships with my sister or anyone else in my family. It was an isolation I had chosen for many reasons that made perfect sense at the time. But the lack of anyone in my life had made me feel like I was stumbling out of hibernation, not knowing how long I’d been asleep for and not knowing if I even wanted to re-engage with the world.
When ‘housing solutions’ first found me somewhere to live my support worker rejected it on the grounds of social connection – I’d begun to tentatively attend some service run cafes and groups and was beginning to find friendships. Where the property was, was at the other end of the city in a place which would take around 90 mins on the bus each way to where I was accessing services. This was deemed a good reason to reject the property and then the one I ended up moving into was offered. This one was literally along the road from where I was getting help and on the same estate as where my cats lived while I sofa surfed.
I no longer speak to anyone from those services, although I remain friends with a couple of people on Facebook. But at that time, knowing I knew people in that area and where I could go when I was lonely was a huge comfort. I spent most of that period of time scared. It helped to have some people, even people I barely knew, nearby. It helped to have a routine I could slip into. It even helped that it was in the city centre, although I’d never really spent much time there, as it meant I didn’t have to go far to get what I needed.
In time I reconnected with one person from my past. Someone who lived (and still lives) nowhere near me. My attachment to Stoke-on-Trent remains with the place and the memories, not with the people. I suppose the point I’m trying to get to is, the social connections didn’t mean that much, but having knowledge of the place and where to go mattered greatly.
Becoming homeless is disorientating and you need something to anchor you. For some, it is people or a person who can anchor you. For me it was that little bit of familiarity in a time when I felt like everything was out of my control. Had I been made homeless and then at that point services came in, I imagine I would still be isolated today and not have turned things around. I’ve always managed to retain one connection, one unchanging aspect, of my life when everything else has flung out of control.
I think this is why having a worker in a support role who remains consistent is so important. For many I’ve seen, this consistent figure is their one point of familiarity to anchor them while everything else changes – their one thing they can rely on to stay the same. In people I’ve known who haven’t had one thing, that one anchor, they were ‘chaotic’ and ‘difficult to engage’ (inverted commas = system speak for angry and distrusting). With consistency comes trust. With trust comes compliance. With compliance comes change.
When I sat to write this, I didn’t plan to end up at this point but I’m glad I did. In health we hear frequently the difference it makes to have a GP who you see with each appointment, how that one person you know you can trust, who knows a bit about you, who is familiar, has such importance for people feeling able to speak up when they are worried about something, to question an opinion, to speak freely about something that is embarrassing. The same thing applies in other services. A frequent customer will go back to the same person who helped them before when making a decision/purchase that means something to them. Admittedly that example is on a smaller scale to health and homelessness but it’s the same principle – when we are unsure, we seek the familiar.
What or who is your anchor? Is it a person? Is it a place? Is it a belonging? Is it something bigger like a fellowship or something connected to faith? Imagine what you would need if you didn’t have that anchor. Imagine being homeless.