Homelessness in Blackpool - 'even if you could just stay there and be dry for an hour it would be worth it'

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Young people have spoken about their experiences in the wake of a survey about destitution

Imagine being at such a low point in life that sheltering in an abandoned building for an hour was the highlight of your day.Stephen Larkin does not need to imagine it – because 10 years ago that was his reality.

He had moved back to Blackpool following the death of his dad – but with no family, job or accommodation he was forced to sofa surf with friends and sleep outside.Today, 32-year-old Stephen is a support worker, back on his feet and saving to buy his own home. But in the wake of national research which shone a spotlight on levels of destitution in Blackpool, he has recalled his own experiences and how he was able to get his life back on track.

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Stephen Larkin who found himself homelessness in BlackpoolStephen Larkin who found himself homelessness in Blackpool
Stephen Larkin who found himself homelessness in Blackpool | National World

He said: “My dad had been helping me out, but I wasn’t earning enough and didn’t pay my rent and when my dad passed I ended up sofa surfing at friends’ houses. But you can only do that for so long, so I ended up sleeping outside.

“Being from Blackpool I knew where the safe places were. I would go to Stanley Park where I knew I could get shelter, or go to an abandoned building. The police do go round and check, but even if you could just stay there and be dry for an hour it would be worth it.”

After being homeless for six months, Stephen came to The Base on Buchanan Street – a drop-in centre run by young people’s homeless charity Streetlife. It proved to be the catalyst for his journey back into society.

He said: “It was a place I felt normal, and that I belonged and I would get at least one meal guaranteed.”

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He also used the Streetlife night shelter at St John’s Church which provides young homeless people with beds.But the charity is about more than that – it provides support to help people overcome debt, mental health issues and to find accommodation, training and hopefully jobs.

In 2016, Stephen, who lives on Reads Avenue, started work with a printing company, but being part of a church was also a vital part of his journey. He now works as a support worker for Autism Initiatives, has achieved NVQ qualifications and is saving up to buy his own home

.He recalls: “When I had nothing, I felt worthless, but I was very self-motivated to get out of that situation. I have always had the church and that has been a constant even when I was homeless. I think a lot of young people give up too easily – not just on housing or jobs, it’s everything. I don’t think I ever gave up.”

Research by national charity the Joseph Rowntree Foundation,  published in October, showed Blackpool has one of the worst levels of destitution in the country. The town was ranked 30th out of 360 areas nationally, with research showing one in 10 people in Blackpool would experience deep hardship over a 12 month period, especially in winter with many unable to meet their most basic needs to stay warm, dry and fed.

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The Streetlife base on Buchanan StreetThe Streetlife base on Buchanan Street
The Streetlife base on Buchanan Street | National World

Streetlife helps many young people who find themselves with no accommodation, training or jobs – with some not even getting a decent daily meal.Last year its expenditure was £690,000 – with funding coming from sources including the National Lottery, Comic Relief and it’s own main annual fundraiser the Big Sleepout (Friday March 22).

Communications manager Kim Hughes said: “We have extended our service in both our day centre and night shelter this year to accommodate the growing needs of the most vulnerable young people in our community.

"A shortage of affordable housing, increased rents and the extra pressure on temporary accommodation services make it more difficult to successfully transition young people into their own home. Once housed, many young people are living in poverty and isolation,  we remain available to provide essentials such as a hot meal, washing facilities, food parcels and emotional support. Our door is always open.”

Streetlife helps many young people (picture by Claire Griffiths)Streetlife helps many young people (picture by Claire Griffiths)
Streetlife helps many young people (picture by Claire Griffiths) | Claire Griffiths

Here are some of the experiences of young people who access Streetlife.

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  • ‘Lucy’ (not her real name)

Twenty three-year-old Lucy, from Blackpool, had a good job in the NHS, and her own home until domestic violence blew her life apart.Her ambition is to earn enough to support herself again and find a decent place to live – but she feels caught up in a spiral that is stopping her from rebuilding.

She said: “I had a really good job at Blackpool Victoria Hospital as a health care assistant and was living in a three-bedroomed house. But I was suffering really bad domestic violence and I missed shifts at work and lost my job. I was put in a women’s refuge, then went to a hostel and then to a hotel with no toilet or shower. I had to go next door to the pub to use the toilet. It was so bad, and I thought this was going to be my life so I made an attempt on my life.

“There was no help for me with trying to find housing, so I then went to a supported living hostel where I am now. I’m estranged from my family so I don’t get any help there. My  housing benefit covers the cost of my supported living, but there’s not much left for food and bills and I have to use foodbanks. I feel the system is failing people like me, as I want to go back to work in the NHS but it’s difficult when you have low self esteem and no support.”

  • Stacey

Mum-of-three Stacy was brought up in care, and has given her first two children up for adoption. Aged 31, she has struggled with drug use in the past which led to her flitting between different places to live. She says getting behind on rent by just one month can put people like her at risk of eviction.Despite being more settled now, and a Young Lived Experience Mentor at Streetlife, she still struggles to meet the day-to-day costs of living.

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She said: “I’ve been living in a council house for about a year now and have shared custody of my son. But I’ve had difficulties with my mental health, and I got behind with my rent and was nearly evicted due to rent arrears. I have been very scared of becoming homeless in the past, but I am settled now. I still struggle to have enough to buy food. I always make sure there is enough for my son and if he doesn’t finish it, I’ll eat the leftovers.”

  • Annalise Jones

Annalise, aged 22, is a student at Blackpool and the Fylde College studying social work.

She said: “I was at college today and there are people there who couldn’t afford any food at home or in college. It is difficult for some people, but the college does support us all very well. I have been homeless in the past and Streetlife helped me get a flat. I have had stages in my life where I wanted to give up but I have bounced back.Now I am enjoying college and I hope the training I am doing will help me get  job and my own house.”

  • James Barlow

Twenty two-year-old James says most nights he sleeps in doorways after leaving home at 15 and getting mixed up “in drugs and partying”. A bad back injury, he says he suffered when he fell out of a tree, has made getting work difficult.

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He said: “That sobered me up and when I left hospital I got a place to live. But I started getting bullied and had to leave after two years. I’ve been on the streets since June and sometimes I stay in the shelter. I get benefits which I spend on blankets and food. It’s really hard for me to get a job because of my back which means I can’t walk very far. Sometimes I sit in the library all day, reading books and it’s a good place to keep warm.”

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