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Stroud Green Road rough sleepers: How bereavement, drug addiction and domestic abuse left two women homeless

PUBLISHED: 10:37 10 October 2017 | UPDATED: 18:35 12 October 2017

Blue under the Stroud Green Road bridge. Picture: Loretta Thomas

Blue under the Stroud Green Road bridge. Picture: Loretta Thomas

Archant

In recent months, two women have been sleeping on mattresses under the Stroud Green Road bridge. Loretta Thomas tells their stories – and finds out what barriers are stopping them accessing the help they need.

K, who sleeps under the Stroud Green Road bridge after fleeing domestic violence. Picture: Loretta ThomasK, who sleeps under the Stroud Green Road bridge after fleeing domestic violence. Picture: Loretta Thomas

The neatly made bed and the tidily arranged possessions wouldn’t be out of place in a showroom.

This is the scene hundreds of commuters are faced with under the Stroud Green Road bridge every day and night: two homeless women who have set up their lives on donated mattresses.

One woman calls herself Blue. The 27-year-old says she had her own home in Haringey four or five years ago, but left to live with her boyfriend.

But in 2015 he died and she went to Haringey Council for help. She claims the town hall wouldn’t rehouse her, saying she had made herself intentionally homeless when she gave up her tenancy to live with her partner.

Why did she never add her name to his tenancy? “We didn’t think he was going to die.”

Possessions under the Stroud Green Road bridge. Picture: Loretta ThomasPossessions under the Stroud Green Road bridge. Picture: Loretta Thomas

Blue went to live with her mum but tragedy struck again: her mum died suddenly, leaving her homeless.

She lived on a friend’s sofa, but that temporary arrangement came to an end and she decided to cross the border into Islington – a way of escaping the drugs and alcohol dependency that dogged her old lifestyle. She has been under the bridge for more than a year.

Blue says she has “no ID, no benefits, nothing”.

“I don’t want to be here,” she tells the Gazette. “People walk past me every day.

“I don’t beg and I go to the 10p and 20p toilet to have a wash. It is ridiculous.”

"I don’t want to be here. People walk past me every day. I don’t beg and I go to the 10p and 20p toilet to have a wash. It is ridiculous"

‘Blue’

She says she’s had difficulty getting help from Islington’s community drug and alcohol services because she has no local connection. But the council said workers with drugs advisory service Change, Grow, Live Islington visit the bridge regularly and point anyone who needs help towards their HQ in Seven Sisters Road.

Meanwhile, Blue says Haringey refuses to help her with housing because it still believes she made herself intentionally homeless when she went to live with her boyfriend. A Haringey spokesman said he could not comment on her circumstances because of “strict rules around data privacy”.

The other woman, K, also originally from the Haringey side of the border, says she fled domestic violence. She is substance dependent and has been street homeless and living under the bridge for eight months.

She says she left hospital after an overdose attempt and is now “too afraid to go to services” and “scared of being sectioned in a mental health hospital”. Last week, Islington Council workers removed K’s mattresses because they were forcing pedestrians to walk in the cycle lane.

Islington’s housing boss Cllr Diarmaid Ward said: “We’re seriously concerned about the health and well-being of anyone sleeping rough in Islington.

A makeshift bed under the Stroud Green Road bridge. Picture: Loretta ThomasA makeshift bed under the Stroud Green Road bridge. Picture: Loretta Thomas

“Specialist teams are conducting ongoing work here to tackle rough sleeping and associated issues, alongside charities like St Mungo’s and The Big Issue, as well as police and neighbouring boroughs.

“We offer support to all rough sleepers in the borough, many of whom are vulnerable or have complex needs.

“We cannot force them to accept it, but St Mungo’s staff are very skilled in working with hard-to-engage people, and a number of people here have recently been supported off the streets and into safe, secure accommodation.”

Blue said she had been visited by a St Mungo’s worker who is going to help her get more council support.

A spokesman for Haringey Council said: “We are aware that there are rough sleepers in Stroud Green Road.

Possessions under the Stroud Green Road bridge. Picture: Loretta ThomasPossessions under the Stroud Green Road bridge. Picture: Loretta Thomas

“Rough sleepers often have complex needs and our street teams have been to the area to offer support, which we know people desperately need when they are homeless.

“We are also liaising with colleagues in Islington Council and homelessness charities to reach out to rough sleepers in this area.”

But asked about Blue’s allegation that she was being treated as intentionally homeless, he added: “There are very strict rules around data privacy and it would be inappropriate for us to discuss any individual’s circumstances.”

--------------------------------------------------

The woman we have identified as K has this poem attached to her makeshift home for passers-by to read. It is reproduced here with her permission.

The handwritten poem K uses to tell her story. Picture: Loretta ThomasThe handwritten poem K uses to tell her story. Picture: Loretta Thomas

I know how it looks

and I know what you’ll see

So now I’ll explain

just what happened to me

For my life was once perfect

until the day of our fight

And now I’m being punished

and it doesn’t seem right

My daughter moved in

as she was finding things rough

She didn’t like my husband

until he started buying her puff

He said not to tell you

He made me swear on my life

It was the very moment

I picked up the knife

‘It’s not a big deal,’

she said with a gloat

I felt it was grooming

so I went to his throat

He had me arrested

and she stood by him

They then changed the locks

and left my belongings in a bin

So now I’m alone

and this is where I sleep

Now you know why

you sometimes see me weep

So now that you know,

please don’t pity me

Just remember I’m human

and try not judging me.

• If you see someone sleeping rough, you can help connect them to local services by visiting streetlink.org.uk.

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