The topic of homelessness has been swimming around my brain recently. Frankly it’s been there on some level since the Tories were voted back in last year (has it really not even been a year of this hell yet?). I’m currently on benefits; too disabled and too ill to work. Just the other week I could barely handle going to Aldi, going to the doctors and going to the chemist before completely breaking down and giving up for a few days (it probably didn’t help that the doctor shoved his crotch in my face) if I can’t even handle a very simple day just yet, then I definitely can’t handle a 9-5 any time soon. But the Tories, the DWP, well, we know they’ll have other plans. Getting disability for mental health and chronic pain conditions was nearly bloody impossible under the Coalition, I know damn well I have no chance under a Tory Government. I’m due for re-assessment in 2017, but the DWP can spring it on me at any point they decide to move me over to PIP.
I’ll fight it, sure. It’s taken me a long time to accept, but I know I deserve to be on benefits, I know I deserve the chance to heal, I know I can’t work just yet, but I’m not holding my breathe. The chances are, any point in the next year or so, I’m going to lose my income and what do I do then? I worked all of this out the night the Tories were elected; I couldn’t stop crying because I knew exactly what was going to happen. I was drinking to make the pain go away by 9am.
I’ve been homeless before, more times than I can count. Sometimes only for a few days, sometimes a few months and the last time was from the age of sixteen till I was twenty. I’ve been street homeless, squatting, sofa surfing and been in hostels. Been there and done that.
I’m terrified of being homeless again; I know I could survive, if I had to, I’ve done it so many times before, but frankly, other than my stubbornness and the toughness I have (oh, I do have it when I need it, working and living on the streets give you that – don’t be surprised by my meek, timid exterior, there’s a part of me underneath that can definitely survive) the main thing that ensured my survival was ‘working’. That’s possibly what terrifies me more than being homeless again, being homeless is gonna be the thing that drags me back, whether I like it or not.
When I was getting close to turning 14, that summer holidays before, I ran away from home again. I’d not long lost my baby and I was done with that life, I’d more than had enough and I just couldn’t take any more. I ended up heading into the city, to where I knew most of the homeless were and where I knew there were a few squats lying around. I had friends up there. It was a dangerous place to go, honestly, I knew my traffickers sometimes went up there to find new girls but I thought I’d be safe.
I hooked up with my friend, I knew her from working on the streets near where I grew up and I remembered she’d told me she was heading to Angel when she left. She was older than me, about my age now when I hooked up with her again. She and a few of her friends had a squat, just women. We were skint but hey, at least we had a roof over our heads. It was just before they started re-gentrifying and the police had long ago stopped giving a fuck. In fact, it was pretty much only our squat they ever bothered and with a house full of prostitutes, you can probably figure out why.
We all had pretty similar pasts, pretty similar reasons as to why we all preferred to ‘live’ in a crappy squat, in ‘hell upon Earth’. There were five of us in total. Most of us escaping abuse or prostitution (only to just end up right back in it of course), most of us high, most of us drinking. Most of us barely eighteen; only my friend was older.
We all ended up ‘working’, still, but we felt invincible, we felt free. We were working under our own terms, no men to tell us what to do, no men taking our money, we were doing it for ourselves and for each other. I’d head right into the city centre each night, set myself up in a bar, usually one with a certain look (I had a proper little goth phase going in and I got ID’ed less in those places and even when I did, I usually… ‘talked’ my way round the bouncers). I always knew what I was looking for, a guy who obviously had a bit of money, younger, professional, I could spot paedophiles a mile off. Almost without fail I’d end up with guys looking for the ‘boyfriend experience’. Maybe I deliberately sought them out, I can’t remember. A few asked me how old I was, I’d always giggle, act much drunker than I was, tell them to shush and not tell anyone, but that I was 16. With some of them, the obvious paedophiles, I’d tell them the truth, that I was 13, it always meant more money later. It was a plus for me, though. They’d buy me a few drinks, take me out for food and then take me back to their posh, city-centre flats and insist I stayed the night. They’d do what they were gonna do, paying me up front and roll over and fall asleep. I’d get a few hours sleep in a comfy bed, which when you’re living in a squat is a blessing, even if you do end up sleeping next to a gross man that just paid for you. I’d wake up long before he did, take whatever cash was from his wallet, any drugs and usually a bit of food. I didn’t care, I felt invincible and which of ’em was gonna ring the police really? Not when it also meant confessing to raping an under-age prostitute.
After a few weeks of my ‘living’ there, prostituting myself. A load of men tried to move in on our squat, we did have some prime property down there to be honest. They were violent and we tried to fight them off but we knew we’d lost our ‘home’. Some guy came out of nowhere and told them all to back off, they listened to him, they were obviously scared of him. They left and it was just us and him. We knew what was gonna happen, me and my friend resigned to it, sat against the wall, lighting up, new pimp, new day. He offered us protection from the homeless men around and the police (I remember laughing at this, we already had the police well and truly sorted), said if we worked from here he could offer us all the protection we needed and he knew plenty of clients. My friend got straight to the point, asking him what he wanted in return. His terms were harsh, but the other girls agreed straight away, none of them had been homeless before, they were scared from the beating they’d just gotten and protection seemed like a good deal to them. He took his pick of us to seal the deal, to pay for the protection we’d just gotten from him. I was the youngest and it was me he picked. He saw my scarification, knew who I belonged to, made a joke about how he knew I’d be well trained, knew I wouldn’t give him any trouble.
We hardly ever got to leave, really, only every now and then and only if we went with one of the other girls. He was violent, but he was a pimp so what do you expect? He was constantly accusing of us holding back money, which was practically impossible, we nearly exclusively worked out of the squat and the clients paid him up front; it was much more likely he was holding back from us. We did sometimes do street work and yeah, I did hold a few quid back then so I could get a pack of cigs. but I still gave him the majority he demanded. I got the crap beaten out of me one night, I came back with barely anything, but I’d gotten barely any work, he accused me of stealing from him and he beat me then raped me as punishment. Another one of the girls couldn’t take it, she OD’ed, probably on purpose. He said he’d sort it out, I have no idea what he did with her body.
Me and my friend were reading the paper one day, well the horoscopes, like we gave a fuck what was happening in the city, and we realised it was nearly September. I casually said something like, ha, school in a few days, and she told me I should go back. I didn’t see the point, but she insisted. Said I was too smart for this shit, that I should go back to school, get my GCSEs, be something more than this. I reminded her what I’d be going back to and she shrugged. Said it wasn’t any different than this, a client was a client and a pimp was a pimp, at least I’d be going to school in the process. I reluctantly agreed, figured at least I’d see my friends again, at least I’d have some kind of freedom during school hours and maybe she was right, maybe with my GCSEs I could be something more.
We got him to agree to let me and her go for a walk. I’d shoved the important things under my clothes, everything else I left to her. I suddenly panicked, realised I was sending her in back alone, that she’d take the blame for me going missing. I tried to change my mind but she insisted. Said she got beaten on a regular basis anyway so what’s it matter, said this one was worth it. She took me to the bus stop, kissed me and told me to make something of myself, to be better than this, I promised her I’d try.
I’ve seen her since, begging on the streets of the city centre. She looks so much older and drawn out. She recognised me, I saw it in her eyes. I was with my friends so she didn’t say anything other than the usual ‘got any change?’ but she didn’t break eye contact with me, she smiled and gave me the thumbs up sign. I went back later when I went out for a cig. she was asleep, but I left her all the change I had and a little note saying it was from me.
I’ve seen him since, too. In the papers, wanted on drug charges. If only they knew of all the things he was guilty of.
The lingering threat from DWP leaves me so terrified that I’m going to end up there again, so terrified that at any moment I can be made homeless and left with no other option but to prostitute myself. I know I have friends, people that care about me, people who would never let that happen, but how much can they really protect me from homelessness? They can’t expect to protect me forever, there’s not much you can do when you have no income. So I’ll continue to have nightmares, continue to be terrified of being made homeless again. At least until I’ve somehow, magically, been successfully reassessed or until I’m in a place where I’m able to work again.