I have been inspired to write this post following the news of the death of Maya Angelou, an inspirational woman. Please be aware that this post deals with some issues of a sensitive nature and some readers may find them upsetting.
The first time I really felt that I took control of my life was when I was 16. Amongst many other things I had been sexually abused at home and decided enough was enough and left. I did not go far as there was a hostel right at the back of our house. Luckily I got a place after one night of sleeping on someone’s couch. See I was still young, in age and mentality, and I could not bear to be too far away from my younger brother. I was really low and had tried to take an overdose of paracetamol before finding friends who found me the place to stay. I say tried because I did not want to die, I wanted to be normal and loveable. My self-esteem so low that I believed that I was too much of a coward to even end it all. So I had taken them very slowly after time and not even enough to warrant going to hospital. This just made me feel all the more pathetic.
I met people in the hostel who were homeless for all manner of reasons, but mainly that they had just come out of prison. I was sharing with men who had been convicted of sexually abusing children. Indeed even a guy who had had sex with me when he was nearly 21 and I was only 12 lived in there (he later claimed to the police that he only met me when we lived together in the hostel). But the hostel was warm and dry. I learned how to wash clothes and cook food. It was well staffed and they made sure it remained a safe place to live. Yes people smoked cannabis there, but this was a pretty normal part of my teenage years. Although some of the people were ex-heroin addicts (well they said they had quit) I never actually saw it. However, I did see a pregnant girl on a bad acid trip once – she was in a bad place.
I shared a room with a lovely girl whose adoptive parents had decided that they no longer wanted her. She became pregnant in the time we shared our room. For ages people did not believe her and then said she only did it for the council flat – but let’s be honest who could blame her if she did. Treated like a child staff would bang on the doors every morning, making sure you got up and did your chores. Having to live by so many rules and regulations.
The hostel was for those ages 16-25, so just before my boyfriend turned 25 he was kicked out. Nothing at all to do with the fact that he was violent towards the female staff. I went with him – and there was nothing legally the staff could do to stop me, to protect me, as I was 16. He got us a room in a shared house where the landlord only took an extra £10 a week on top of our housing benefit. But he got us to work for him for free. My boyfriend would plaster, and we would do up gardens – for long hours. I lived there for 2 months, after which time the beatings and control from my boyfriend became too much. The police could not act when called out to discover me covered in bruises as I was 16 – and he was classed as the person looking after me. I was too scared to press charges. Even the thought of more sexual abuse was more appealing and I returned home.
I feel really lucky that home was an option. For many young people going home is not. I have met people who live on the streets, who eat out of bins. I have seen inside so many hostels and not all are as good as where I stayed. It is frightening to think that there are people out there who take advantage of the vulnerable. There was a point when I discovered how easily it is to fall into prostitution – some guy showing an interest, pretending he cares. Luckily I was at college and someone else knew this guy was a pimp. I was fortunate that they liked me enough to get them to leave me alone.
I am grateful to the path that life has redirected me on and have a wonderful life with my family. Not everyone gets that chance. I am grateful for the Legal Aid which allowed me to apply for injunctions. I am thankful for counselling from Barnardos. They made me see that the way I was living was not good for my son. This was enough for me to move to another city alone with him. Since then I have realised the value of me. Please try not to judge the homeless– you have not walked a mile in their shoes. I bumped into a Big Issue seller the other month and despite the hard time he was having he was so cheery and positive. Each Big Issue seller buys the magazines at £1.25 and sells them on for £2.50. He made me really stop and think about how life is what you make it. You could have a fantastic life but if you are miserable then what’s the point? And if you can smile through the pain then it makes it all worthwhile.
I have been petrified to walk around my own home town – these photos were taken last month when I faced my fears and walked around the City on my own. I still have a long way to go but I am getting there.
This is not a sponsored post.