A childhood of neglect and lack of any positive role models paved the way for Alex’s troubled youth. It inevitably attracted her into the wrong company: a gang who introduced her to criminal activity and drug use. Underneath her ‘hard’, self-protective shell though, Alex was a vulnerable woman with a kind soul, and this made her a target for exploitation.
Shunned by her family, she took to sleeping rough. One night, wrapped tightly in her sleeping bag, she was awoken abruptly by excruciating pain as a group of drunken lads savagely laid into her before urinating over her crumpled form ‘for a laugh’. None of her so-called friends were there when she needed help, or after she was hospitalised for treatment of her injuries. Traumatised as she was, it proved to be a real wake-up call for Alex and she decided that she was through with the life she had been living and wanted to make a fresh start. Her turnaround was not a smooth journey, but Alex never gave up and she made some impressive progress in changing for the better.
Alex was fortunate to be given the chance of a tenancy, and in the beginning all was going well … until her old gang caught up with her. They pressured her into allowing them into her home, and the fear of repercussions should she refuse them was enough to persuade her to let them in. She quickly realised that she had made a mistake and wanted them out, but Alex’s attempts to reason with her so-called friends only resulted in them turning on her. Coercion turned to threats, they stole her keys and warned her to leave and never return, because the flat was theirs now. Alex knew that this mob were very capable of carrying out their threats, so she left her home and returned to sleeping rough.
I asked Alex to consider reporting the matter to the council so that action could be taken against the squatters, and so she could get some temporary accommodation, a provision available to someone deemed to be in fear for their safety if they returned to their home. I offered to help Alex gather some evidence, knowing that the council would ask for it, and one day we took a chance and went together to the flat.
We were met with a horrific sight. The floors in every room were covered with sleeping bags, used needles, empty cans and bottles, food waste and human waste. It was a stinking mess. I also discovered that the cooker had been ripped out from its casing, no doubt in an attempt to remove and sell it, and the boiler had been removed, likely for the same reason.
The worst thing of all was the graffiti. It covered every wall, and in the living room, all the way across the main wall, a message had been scrawled claiming ownership of the property and warning Alex not to return if she valued her life and the lives of her loved ones (who she still cared about, even though they had disowned her). We hastily moved through the flat, taking photos, and left before anyone returned.
I delivered our evidence to the council, who dutifully assessed it and made further enquiries, before informing us of their decision. Alex had allowed her friends in, they said, and so it was her responsibility to get rid of them and clean the place up. I was utterly astonished. In one of my future posts, I will write about how people are often judged by their past, regardless of any effort made to reform, and are not afforded the same dignity or respect as others by the authorities. This, I felt, was one of those times.
I supported Alex to challenge the council’s decision. It wasn’t easy, even for one who knew their complicated procedures, and it took much time; but during the process Alex was refused any temporary accommodation and was forced to continue sleeping rough. The council’s decision was eventually overturned, but only after a lot of hard work, frustration, tears, and for Alex, many cold nights spent in fear on the streets.