Few of us know what it feels like to be truly alone. But for Fatima that was a distressing reality when she came to the Cardinal Hume Centre looking for help.
Serious disputes with her family had forced her to leave home. She had moved to London with no knowledge of the City and only one friend who she could all on for help. However, when their relationship soured Fatima found herself with no place to sleep for the night and no one she could turn to.
When Fatima arrived at the Centre she had been wandering the streets all night, with no shelter, food or water. Alice, one of the Centre’s Advice and Assessment Officers, worked with Fatima to find her a safe place to sleep, and described the state she found her in:
“Fatima turned up at the Centre on a Friday afternoon. She looked so tired and run down when she came in. She hadn’t had anything to eat or drink all night and was very upset.”
As Alice spoke with Fatima she became increasingly aware of the urgency of her situation. Fatima was estranged from her family, and was reluctant to share any information about them. While she had been living with her friend she had wanted to study, but her friend wouldn’t let her use her address. Fatima didn’t know that she could claim any benefits and she wasn’t working.
“She had absolutely no one she could call upon in the world,” Alice recalls, “and it was scary how little knowledge she had in terms of looking after herself”. Fatima was young and had no knowledge of how the system worked or who to ask for help. Alice needed to find her a room for the weekend. With many council and charity services only operating Monday to Friday, Alice had limited time to arrange accommodation.
Our own hostel was at capacity, with the last bed being given away just ten minutes before Fatima arrived on our doorstep. Alice advised Fatima that she should declare herself as homeless, and drafted a letter for Fatima to present to Housing Options on Monday morning. But that still left the problem of finding somewhere for Fatima to sleep until then. Alice frantically made calls to homeless charities, but to no avail. Fatima’s lack of resources and her emotional instability meant that Alice was afraid of what might happen if she was left to fend for herself.
With no other options left to them Alice advised Fatima that they should wait until the emergency housing phone lines opened at 5.30pm. Fatima finally accepted a cup of tea, she had been refusing to accept anything all day, and as services and offices closed for the weekend she realised how much Alice was doing for her, “She asked me why I wasn’t going home, and I told her I wanted to make sure she had a place to stay”.
When the emergency housing lines opened at 5.30pm Alice got through straight away, and was able to get a room for Fatima in a B&B in the area of London which Fatima was familiar with. Fatima had never heard of a B&B and Alice had to explain to her that she would be given her own key and would be allowed to come and go as she pleased. Alice printed out directions for Fatima showing her how to get from the B&B to Housing Options on the Monday morning, and she ordered a taxi to take her straight to the B&B that night.
Reflecting on the urgency of cases such as Fatima’s Alice spoke about how difficult it can be for rough sleepers to get off the streets: “Its pot luck if there is a bed available in hostels a lot of the time; and finding a bed is just a short term solution for a much bigger problem”. Luckily for Fatima Housing Options were able to offer her temporary accommodation for the weekend, so that she would be safe and warm before making a homelessness application on the Monday. Thanks to Alice she wasn’t forced to wander the streets for a second night in a row.