Ron’s independent streak should have been obvious. He left his last accommodation in a shared house after being kept awake night after night by the other noisy tenants who also regularly asked him for money. His landlady said he was a fine tenant right up until the day he suddenly handed back his keys. He had nowhere else to go but had slept rough in London before so this didn’t worry him. He found a spot which suited him underneath a railway bridge.
When I joined his local outreach team late one night to find him he’d been sleeping under the bridge for 18 months. He’d told them consistently that he’d had enough of the hassle that came with living indoors, but as he spoke it became obvious that he’d also had enough of living on the streets. He’d finally started a benefits claim. He was reluctant to rely on what he felt was a handout, but realised that he couldn’t get anywhere without any money and since he had paid tax for most of his life he felt he could justify taking a small amount back when he was most in need.
Ron and I met the next day to discuss what kind of housing he might be interested in. We decided to look for a studio flat and thanks to a project called Two Step he found one and moved in within a few weeks. As I’ve written before, moving from the streets into accommodation can be stressful and as someone who simply abandoned the last place he lived Ron would be considered to be more at risk than most. Part of my job is to make sure people settle in well and I wasn’t sure how Ron would cope after spending so long on the streets.
I visited him a few days after he moved in. It was a tiny flat, but with a big bay window letting in lots of light. The place was spotless and he’d already started to make it look like a home. He said he still needed a few things – some kitchen and bathroom items and a rug to cover his cold, bare floor.
Ron had already spent his last two benefits payments on the flat and to save for these extra items on the amount of money he gets would take a while. I told him we could apply for a grant to buy them, pulled a clutch of forms from my bag and enthusiastically started to fill them in. While I was scribbling down details of what he’d said he wanted I noticed he seemed a little uneasy.
“Ron – you don’t really want me to apply for a grant, do you?”
“Well to be honest, Daf, I’d rather pay for things myself. I hope you don’t mind, but I’m not sure it would really feel like my place if someone else bought my things for me.”
I was embarrassed that I’d made the assumption that Ron would want to accept money to pay for these things. He told me that he’s come to terms with taking a small amount of money in benefits each week, but thinks he should be able to get by on that and doesn’t want to bother anyone else.
By refusing my offer to get some financial help, I think Ron showed that not only had he thought about what he needed to do to make his new flat feel like his own, but willingly accepted the responsibility to do it himself. I’m due to meet him again soon to make sure all is still going well, but any worries I had about his ability to manage his own flat have gone.
Daf, Borderline Scottish outreach worker.
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