Ben*

It was my sister who decided to call Oasis Community Housing’s drop-in in Sunderland. When she told me the opening hours I set off at 5.30am to walk the 17 miles to get there for doors opening.

I’d never been to a drop-in before. When I got there, they offered me something to eat and drink but I didn’t want to be a bother. Although I was grateful for the jacket, joggers and socks they gave me as my clothes felt pretty tatty.

I’d left Sunderland more than 20 years ago, to try to find work in London. I bought some tools and got by doing what work I could find. Just sleeping out at night to make the most of it.

I was down there for nine years before I decided to move about a bit – Salisbury, Chester, then I stayed in Portsmouth for a while, carrying on doing any work I could find – you know, to buy food – but after a while I decided to come back to try and find my sister. I hadn’t spoken to her since I left. I never had a phone!

At the drop-in they asked if I’d been registered homeless, but I didn’t realise I should have been. Dave [who runs the drop in] asked if I had been claiming benefits but I didn’t realise that either. I didn’t have a bank account anyway.

Later that day, my sister – as I was using her phone –  got a call from the Council. Dave had called their housing people while I’d been at the drop-in. They said I could have a space in a hostel. It was a lovely offer, but I’d lived on my own for so long that I felt really unsure about it. It just wasn’t for me.

I stayed with my sister for a night, but didn’t want to be a burden to her so decided just to sleep out in the park.

All the while the folks at Oasis Community Housing were helping me fill out forms to set up a bank account – as I didn’t have no ID – they phoned all the right people to help me get some support through benefits, and they gave me more clothes after the ones they gave me were stolen while I was sleeping in the park.

I can’t thank them enough for what they managed to do for me in just a few days. Just so kind. All this help that I didn’t realise was out there, and they sorted it all for me.

* Name has been changed

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