On the night of April 23, 2018, Paul prepared to spend his first night as a homeless person in a park surrounded by properties worth upwards of £1.5 million. He had managed to find a spot in Sidney Square, Whitechapel, east London. A number of events over the previous few years, including the death of his mum and subsequent depression, eventually resulted in him being evicted from his nearby home. Since then, Paul, 45, has been on a remarkable journey that has seen him get back on his feet and on the verge of moving into his own flat. After his ordeal last year, he has also secured a job as a caretaker at a primary school. He wants to share his story so people can understand how easily someone can become homeless and what can be done to help. After things fell apart for him, Paul was one of around record numbers of 170,000 people sleeping rough in the capital.

Sidney Square, Whitechapel, where Paul would spend 3 and a half weeks homeless (Picture: w8media/metro.co.uk)

Some of the properties Paul was surrounded by were worth upwards of £1.5 million (Picture: UniquePictures.co.uk)

He tells Metro.co.uk: ‘I lost my job in 2014, my mum had been diagnosed with cancer and I needed to take care of her. ‘I had some savings and I wanted to take care of her. Six months later, she died. I inherited some money, but was feeling really low.’ He adds: ‘Looking back, I was suffering from depression at the time. I didn’t apply for benefits or anything. I didn’t know how to, or if I was allowed to.’ He turned to alcohol and the little money he had left of what he saved was spent on drowning his sorrows.

Paul recalls a time when one night it was so cold he woke up and couldn’t move (Picture: UniquePictures.co.uk)

After months of this, Paul was admitted to hospital, where he was told his liver and kidneys were failing. He got better, but upon his release, his world began falling apart. He ran out of money and could no longer afford to pay the rent for his flat. After being evicted, Paul says the night of April 23, 2018, is one he ‘will never forget’.

While in the park, a woman once bought Paul a duvet and pillow

Following the eviction notice, he put everything he owned into a few small bags and made a bed out of his clothes on a park bench. It would be the first night of the next three and a half weeks he would spend sleeping on the streets, with little idea of what the future held for him. He says: ‘In Sidney Square, I spent most of my time in the park and slept in a nearby bus shelter. ‘One night it was so cold I woke up and couldn’t move and literally just fell. I was lucky I didn’t smash my face.’ Paul says he ‘never begged for money’ on the streets. But he says one woman who bought him a duvet and pillow ‘restored his faith in humanity’.

Paul praised the work carried out by homeless charity St Mungo’s. in helping him turn his life around (Picture: UniquePictures.co.uk)

And Paul became determined enough to seek help at the Whitechapel Mission, which has been helping homeless people for 140 years. He says: ‘The best thing about that was you get to talk to people, to meet people and people signpost you to where you can get help. ‘They help you fill in forms that you need, for example, to see a GP.’ Paul then recalls another date seared into his memory. On May 16, 2018, while he was sat in the park, he was approached by an outreach worker from homeless charity St Mungo’s. It was an intervention which turned his life around.

Paul says an outreach worker from homeless charity St Mungo’s was key in helping him turn things around (Picture: http://www.alamy.com)

He says: ‘They asked me about where I was staying and said they would get an outreach team out to me. ‘Eventually, they did an assessment and decided I was eligible for a shelter, where you can go and stay, they assess your needs.’ Paul was then put in touch with a service known as ‘No Second Night Out’, which is delivered in partnership with St Mungo’s and commissioned by the Greater London Authority. It focuses on helping those who find themselves sleeping rough on the streets of the capital for the first time. Paul spent five nights in emergency accommodation before a case worker from the local council decided to place him in an alternative facility in Hackney, north east London, which is part run by St Mungo’s. He said one of the greatest things he was proud of was his ability to stop drinking within three days of being given somewhere to stay. Paul is now approaching 17 months alcohol-free, something he never thought possible before.

Paul would regularly walk up and down near the bus stop where slept just to keep warm (Picture: UniquePictures.co.uk)

He has been living in a hostel since February, has secured a job and is close to getting his own place. Throughout our conversation, he’s keen to talk about work and how busy he is and how that has helped improve his confidence and self-esteem. Yet he’s also aware of how luck played a role in helping him get back to his feet and how the intervention by St Mungo’s was crucial. Paul wants to show how easy it can be to end up on the streets and what can be done to help those less fortunate than himself. He suggests an organisation called StreetLink. It enables members of the public to connect rough sleepers with services, by encouraging them to send an alert via its website or app when they see someone sleeping rough. He says: ‘I’d encourage other homeless people to sign up to StreetLink, I didn’t know what it was at first, but they do get people out to you, even if they can’t straight away.’

That information is then sent to the local authority or outreach service for the area to help them find the individual and give them support. Paul says the government needs to invest more in charities and support services that help homeless people, so fewer have to go through what he did. Beatrice Orchard, Head of Policy, Campaigns and Research at St Mungo’s said: ‘Rough sleeping is harmful and dangerous at any time of the year, however this is increased when temperatures drop dramatically over the festive period. ‘St Mungo’s is calling on the new government to move quickly to make good on its pledge to end rough sleeping within 5 years.

‘This should include a new cross-government strategy, backed up with £1bn of long-term guaranteed funding.’ A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesperson said:’The Government is working to bring homelessness to an end, which is why this week we have announced an additional £260 million of funding so councils up and down the country can provide crucial services tailored to their areas. ‘But we’re going even further, ensuring more integrated working between our local health and housing services, including committing more than £30 million to healthcare services for people who are sleeping rough.’


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