“I was almost 70 years old when I had to start begging,” says Brenda. “After my partner – the love of my life – died from cancer, I was left without a home. I used to deliver leaflets through doors to try to make some money. I was willing to do this because you have to work for your income, you don’t get money just like that. But then I had to stop: my knees were swelling up and I experienced a lot of pain when delivering these leaflets. It felt like I was dying from pains and aches. Every day I used to pray, ‘God, please, help me,’ until help finally came.”
Born in Guyana, Brenda came to London 30 years ago, fleeing domestic violence. Her uncle lived in London and, fearing for her safety, he arranged for her to come to the UK. After the death of her partner, she had moved in with another relative but had had to leave after more abuse. Brenda was near despair but then, one day, “a man told me that an organisation called Age Concern could help me with my immigration status. They got me a solicitor, and – can you believe it? – I had the right to residency! I got this pink biometric card and felt such a relief. It had been so stressful to go through all the paperwork. The worst part of it was the feeling that I don’t belong in this country. But even with the card I had no access to public funds, which meant that I couldn’t get a pension. So I had to keep begging. It was when Age Concern referred me to the Cardinal Hume Centre that things really changed.”
While known for its work with young homeless people and families, the Centre, informed by the Benedictine ethos of its founder, extends a special welcome to those, regardless of age, gender or race, who have not been able to find help elsewhere. It is also one of a small number of organisations offering free specialist immigration and welfare rights advice – which has made a huge difference to Brenda.
“At the Centre Maggie helped me change my immigration status so I could access public support, and Gemma in housing and welfare rights advice helped me apply for pension credit. Thanks to Maggie and Gemma, I got a pension and could stop begging!
I thought, ‘That’s it, no more disdain for me.’ “Gemma helped me apply for sheltered accommodation with the council and made sure I could stay in a temporary hostel while waiting for my decision. Now I have a home for the first time in a really long time. I live in a one-bedroom flat and I do gardening in a community garden by Stockwell station. I really love gardening.
Where I am now, I am so blessed and so happy. Many people are on the streets. But me, I’m somewhere!”