Whilst I am relieved that I got through three months of sleeping rough I am in no way proud of what I did to survive; although I didn’t resort to theft or begging at any time I did go scouring taxi ranks, phone boxes and parking meters for dropped change and I retrieved discarded take-aways from bins because I was desperate to eat something other than a cup-a-soup or pot noodle. On some occasions, when seeking day time shelter in a cafe, I would pick a recently vacated table and eat the remnants of whatever was left on the plates before someone came to clear them away. In short I behaved like a scavenger and I am ashamed of this.
I felt that, as my own family had turned their backs on me, I didn’t deserve to have anyone care about me. My family believed everything that my husband told them – that my work colleagues had turned me against him, that they were filling my head with silly ideas and that he was happy to have me back despite everything I had done. They told me that he was a good man and that I should go back to him and be a good wife to him; they thought that if they refused to help me leave him that I would give up and return to where I ought to be. Of all my family members my Grandad and my Stepdad where the only two people who believed I should do what I wanted to do but both of them were prevented from talking to me until I “saw sense” and did the right thing.
I was very lucky that I had support from friends and colleagues because after the first night of sleeping in my car my resolve was close to breaking point. I had thought that it wouldn’t be too bad as it was early spring, the temperatures didn’t seem too low and I had a good quality sleeping bag but the cold seemed to penetrate every part of my body that night and I barely slept at all. The feeling of being cold persisted throughout the next day and I went to work wearing three layers of clothing whereas most of my colleagues were dressed in summer clothes. My colleagues were wondeful, they kept my spirits up and made me endless cups of hot tea in an effort to try and get me warm. A number of them offered to let me stay on their sofa but I declined and told them I was ok apart from being a bit cold, I really didn’t feel that I could impose on them any further and I planned to try the homeless shelter again anyway as they had said they would keep a space for me that night after having to turn me away the night before.
The homeless shelter was pretty scary; it was a large hall with row upon row of camp beds and matresses laid out. I got even less sleep there as I found the presence of so many people in the same room terrifying, particularly when the lights went out, I was bolt awake everytime someone so much as sniffled.
The next day I decided I would be better off living in my car after all so I went out to scour the charity shops for some fleece clothing and bought a couple of hot water bottles to help keep me warmer at night. I spent the rest of the day in the library writing up my final dissertation for my Degree studies and making plans for survival.
My main priority was to look for a full time job and in the meantime keep the car on the road as well as keeping myself fed and clean. I calculated that as long as I was very careful I would be able to stretch the wages from my part time job to keep the car running and as I only had a travel kettle to cook with I could only eat things that involved having hot water poured over them so my food bill was very cheap albeit very poor nutrition-wise. Keeping myself clean was easy on work days as my workplace had a shower in the bathrooms so I would check in early for my shift and get washed beforehand. In the evening I would use a public bathroom and on days off I used the facilities at the local swimming pool.
The weekends were the worst time as the usual parking space that I parked up in to sleep at night would be overrun with boy racers and as a result was often patrolled by Police Cars. In order to avoid trouble I would keep moving during the night and catch a few hours sleep in the morning before going to work but the unusual sleep pattern combined with a poor diet played havoc with my health and I felt constantly worn out.
The search for a full-time job was not easy, I knew I was not looking or performing my best at interviews and as a result was getting nowhere. I was also waiting to get the result of my degree studies which was not due for another month, I was confident that I would pass and knew that once I had the qualification confirmed I could start to look further afield for a job. It was this knowledge that kept me striving on; I knew there would be an end to it one day and so I kept going.