I freely admit that I was one of the lucky ones. My parents – together for over fifty years – stayed in the home I grew up in. I always had a bed there, if I needed one. I knew I could turn up at the door at any time (all right, my mother would have tutted, and complained that she hadn’t got enough bread for toast and why hadn’t I rung and where would I park the car, and my dad would have smiled vaguely and taken himself off somewhere quiet with his book) and know that I could stay. Sometimes that bed was a long way away, but it was always there, as long as I could get to it.
But there have been moments. When my landlord appeared at my front door, looked sideways at my five children rioting busily in the garden, and asked me when I was thinking of moving out. When I found myself booted unceremoniously out of a relationship with nothing but a black bin liner of clothes. When I thought I may have to find somewhere new to live with three cats, two dogs and an income that only covered my rent because the house was incredibly cheap and falling down.
In those moments I looked homelessness in the face. It leered at me at night when I woke up sweating and wondering how the hell I would manage. Particularly once the children had left home, when the council had no duty to house me and I would be completely on my own. But, as I said, it was an almost cosmetic kind of fear, because I always knew that I could turn up on my parents’ doorstep, even if it meant giving up my job, my friends and straining contact with the children with hundreds of miles between us. I could.
That’s not a luxury that everyone has. When relationships break down, parents move away or the relationship that has broken down is with parents, where do you go? Friends? Well, yes, but even the very best life-long friend will get tetchy about an extra person cramping their style and taking up their sofa, after a while. And getting back on your feet takes time. You need money, lots of it, for a deposit on even the tiniest room. If you’ve got pets, good luck, you’ll be told to get rid of them before landlords will even let you rent the damp cellar. Plus, where do you get the cash? Particularly if you’re paying off old debts, incurred in those days when you thought everything was fine and settled.
Homelessness isn’t just something drifted into by the mentally ill and those society has failed. It can happen to the most together, the most organised. Those who thought they’d never be there, on the street or in a hostel. Every homeless person has a story to tell and it may not be what you expect. Which is why I wrote ‘There’s No Place Like Home’.