Where to get help if you are made homeless in the UK
I am writing this article as a kind of appendix to my other articles on alcoholism and related mental illness.The reason why I am bothering with all of this is because, when I found myself at the lowest of lows, through alcohol abuse, I found it incredibly difficult to find information on where to go for help.
Having lived a relatively affluent life until my alcohol and other issues destroyed all that; I had absolutely no experiences whatsoever of claiming benefits, living on a tight budget and what would happen, now that I had no home to call my own.
Fortunately, I live in the UK and, although our benefits system is often mocked for being too easily abused and for promoting the so called ‘Benefits Culture’, I thank god that we have it! The problem is though, for someone like me who had never in my entire life claimed for anything, finding out where to go for help was not an easy thing to do.
Sadly, for some people in the UK, Living of benefits and dealing with substance abuse and homelessness is just a part of life. This article is for people like me for whom homelessness was a shocking step into the unknown.
- Am I an Alcoholic?
Spotting the signs of alcoholism early will make beating the problem a whole lot easier but how do you know if you are becoming or might become an alcoholic?
- How to stop drinking – The first steps to quitting alcohol
When you stop drinking, you will face some challenges, but it only takes one to two weeks for things to start getting easier.
- Help Dealing with Debt
Free debt help and advice is available from a number of sources and there are various ways of getting you back on track or even giving you a fresh start. You don’t have to deal with it on your own.
- Detained Under Section 136 - A Place of Safety
Where do you get taken when are unfortunate enough to suffer a mental health issue in public?
- The Recovering Alcoholic and the Fellowship of the Salvation Army
When I needed support in my battle with alcoholism I found it in the most unexpected place. The Salvation Army.
How I became homeless – The background
Firstly, you don’t need to be a hopeless down and out to become homeless; it really can happen to anyone. I became homeless through a combination of a marriage breakdown, alcoholism and eventually the failure, through my own fault because of my drinking, of my own business.
Ultimately, I found myself hopelessly alcohol dependant, thoroughly depressed and with three suicide-attempts to my name, living in a dingy little room above a pub. The money had run out, the landlord was chasing for rent arrears, I was hungry and I didn’t have a clue where I was going to go or what I was going to do.
I should have sought help sooner because eventually the fears that were running around my head, the visions of my living in a car park or under a bridge, all overwhelmed me and lead to another incident with the police and an extended stay in a mental hospital. That shouldn’t have been though and, as hindsight is a wonderful thing, read on and find the things that I could have done to avoid this. Not everything here will apply to everybody. I was an alcoholic, with mental health issues, huge debts and I had no home, but, I hope that some of this article will be of use to anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation.
Homelessness - It can happen to anyone
1. Don’t Panic!
Firstly, you have to focus on the problem in hand and there is help available, so don’t panic and don’t ignore the problem and think that it will all go away. However, the only criticism I do have of the ‘British Welfare’ system is that there is no one single place that you can go to get help, so you have a bit of leg work to do. Part of the problem is the efforts of successive British Governments to create, what has more recently been called, The Big Society. What this comes down to, on the ground, is that different charities receive funding from the government to provide different kinds of help; hence there is no one central place to go.
But don’t panic. Most of the people who spend any real length of time on the streets in the UK are those who do not seek help or those who do not want help. That is a statement that some people will get angry about, but I live in this world now and I can tell you that, of all the disenfranchised people that I know, only one of them lives long term on the street and that is because he has got so used to it that he doesn’t like being under a roof anymore. But, even he comes in for the winter.
2. Open a new bank account
Open a new bank account? What’s this guy talking about?
Remember, I’m writing this based upon my own experiences and I fell from grace in a relatively short period of time. That meant that I had a heap of debts and whole load of direct debits and standing orders set up on my bank account, so the moment that any money went in, it disappeared again.
Set up a new bank account in which you know what little money you do have is going to be safe. You can get ‘basic’ accounts from most banks now that require just ID and proof of address. But, remember, they don’t really care if you actually live at that address, they just want to confirm your identity, and so, if you have some letters addressed to your old home and some kind of photo ID, you will be fine.
3. Sign on for benefits
It’s a lot of form filling for £50 a week and that can be really off putting, but you need to be registered as soon as possible. Being on benefits opens the door to many other avenues of help so go online to https://www.gov.uk/browse/benefits to check your entitlements or visit your local citizens advice bureaus (CAB) for advice. You can find your nearest branch by searching here: http://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/
Don’t let pride hold you back, you are entitled to help.
4. Visit your local council offices
Visit the housing benefits office at your local council and explain the situation. If I had acted sooner, I would still have my grotty room in the pub that I was living in and the council would have paid for it. So, it was a grotty room in a pub, but it had a roof, it was warm and it would have been far better than the alternative!
Your local council has an obligation to help you and, let’s be honest; they don’t want homeless people cluttering up their tidy streets and car parks. I found the council to be very helpful and, even though it’s another lengthy form to fill out, had I gone earlier, I would have received housing benefit to pay my rent. It is far better to keep the place that you have, if you can, so act sooner rather than later on this.
In an emergency, they will also have the details of night shelters and other local homeless charities that may be able to assist.
5. Don’t be afraid about hostels and night shelters
I had a big hang-up about living in a hostel or staying in a night shelter and the main reason for this was my ignorant misconceptions about people that stay in these places. There is no doubt that there are a higher number of addicts, ex-cons and mental health patients in the homeless community than there are in the so called normal community but, they are just people all the same. I can honestly say that I have never been threatened. I have felt uncomfortable at times, but, if you give people respect they will return that respect and I now have a circle of friends that is far more honest, open and kinder than any of the ‘friends’ that I had in the normal world.
That is not to say, of course, that everyone is a saint, but, if you keep your wits about you, keep your belongings safe, don’t judge people and you show people respect, then living in a hostel or staying in a night shelter really isn’t as bad as you might think.
6. Other sources of help
I found that the best sources of help are the local ones and the best way of getting help is to go and talk to agencies, face to face. The trend with many charities and government agencies is for everything to be done online, but you get faster results when you actually go and see people and explain your situation to them.
You will also find that, whilst there is no centralised service to go to, one agency will be able to refer you to another. For example, an alcohol and addiction support service helped me to find temporary accommodation through another agency.
I would also recommend asking at local churches and the Salvation Army. You don’t need to be a religious person to get their help, but it is very often religious communities that can provide the help and the contacts that you may need.
Other websites that may be helpful are:
A useful web site with a search facility to help you find agencies that can help you find accommodation in your local area.
A national charity for the homeless that can provide help and advice should you become homeless or are in danger of becoming homeless.
Have you ever experienced homelessness?
Just don’t be afraid or too proud to ask for help
Homelessness is rarely something that happens overnight, and it is something that most people think will never happen to them. I knew that there was a possibility of my becoming homeless, but, I ignored it. Had I sought advice and help earlier, it wouldn’t have happened. Even if you have other issues, like alcohol dependency or mental health problems, sort out a roof over your head first and then you can begin to deal with the other issues.
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