A HOMELESS grandmother has shared her experience as a rough sleeper on the streets of York - including being being robbed and urinated on.

Jennifer - not her real name - has also been spat on and abused while sleeping rough in York since last September.

She said: “It’s horrible, frightening. I hate the dark, I hate being on my own.

“You get kicked, you get called ‘dirty scum’ and ‘smack-head’, and people urinate all over you while you’re trying to sleep.

“That happened to me only last week in Coney Street. That was someone who was on a night out. I just pulled the hood over my head and tried to get back to sleep, but I couldn’t because all I could smell was wee.”

York Press:

Jennifer said her mother died when she was just 12, and three months later, she found out the man she thought was her father was not her real dad. She put herself into a children’s home, but when she left care aged 16, she said there was no real support.

She said: “I had my child after meeting my partner when I was 17. I lost my first child as he beat me.

“I got in with a family from Clifton at 26 and that’s when I started using heroin.

“I was with a woman for 15 years but she was just as bad as the men. She left me for someone else and I met my last partner who was totally controlling. He was another one that took sex when I said no so I ended up getting him barred out of York.

“Three months later, he started writing to me and I ended up following him and we ended up back together. He wasn’t abusive, didn’t hit me, but the mental torture was more to deal with. I would rather have him give me a backhander. He used to pick my clothes out for me, I wasn’t allowed to show any part of my skin.

“He died in 2017 and since then I’ve been in a situation where my vulnerability shows and people get on to that straight away and so I can’t get out of it. I’m in a vicious circle.”

York Press:

Jennifer said she had not used heroin for a month, and had stopped taking prescription methadone. Now in her early 50s, she takes prescription medication to manage a chronic pain condition, and said a life on the streets has left her exhausted and troubled.

She said: “I’ve got no clothing whatsoever. The last person I was staying with kept everything, clothing, make-up, bits and pieces and won’t give me any of it back.

“Day to day, we just wander the streets. I don’t really have friends. I would call them acquaintances or people who just want to rob me.”

Jennifer said had been supported in a number of accommodations in recent years, but had either left or been asked to leave each time. She told The Press she had thought of travelling to other cities to try and find accommodation, but has family in the York area and does not want to be too far from them.

Jennifer said: “I want to be near them.

“I just want somewhere, even in a shared house, I just want somewhere I can shut my door and be on my own.”

'It becomes a cycle of problems'

York Press:

HOPING street kitchen is a charity in York which helps the homeless, and a spokeswoman said Jennifer’s experience was far from unique.

She said: “So often our homeless have devastating experiences, like Jennifer, in their earlier lives. Add to that leaving care at 16, when not equipped for the adult world, and they are vulnerable to exploitation and homelessness. 

“It becomes a cycle of problems, extremely difficult to break away from. They need and deserve extra support if they’ve missed out on early interventions. We can help with hot food and warm clothes, and I like to give a hug too.”

'One rough sleeper is too many'

York Press:

Denis Southall, City of York Council’s head of housing said the authority worked to help people avoid becoming homeless in the first place, whatever their circumstances.

He said: "In 2018, we made 732 interventions to help people keep or find a new home. We’ve adopted a more personalised approach to our support and accommodation and rough sleeping in York has since reduced. 

"While one rough sleeper is too many – life expectancy on the streets is just 47 years - there are now nine people regularly sleeping rough in York. All are welcome to use our services. Later this year, we’ll open James House. With 57 self-contained units of temporary accommodation, it replaces our existing provision."
Mr Southall said anyone worried about losing their home should phone 01904 554500 or visit West Offices as soon as possible.

Where homelessness cannot be avoided, Mr Southall said temporary accommodation could be offered.
He said: "We and our partners go out early in the morning currently four times a week to find people sleeping rough and offer them a bed. Anyone missed by the team should go to the Salvation Army at 63 Lawrence Street, York between 10am and noon. They will usually be offered one of our 21 year-round emergency beds.

"Everyone is offered tailored support whether they are in our accommodation or if they feel they can’t live in it.

"We offer help with any mental health issues or support with substance misuse, help with claiming benefits, budgeting, training, work experience or volunteering and finding work."

Mr Southall said the council worked to tailor support to individuals, so there was no 'standardised' help.

He said: "Recognising everyone’s individuality, the service works together to get people the home and support that they need.

"Regardless of what may have happened in the past, we give people renewed opportunities and work with them to find solutions along the way. We’re constantly looking at ways to improve our services as well as working with businesses, charities and communities to prevent homelessness, and support people well if this occurs."