After homeless charities in Blackpool revealed they are facing a mounting cash crisis, reporters Steve Canavan and Jacqui Morley spoke to people on the streets about how they would cope without the services.
CASE STUDY 1: ‘The lowest was when I tried to drown myself in the sea’
BRANT Nuttall could sell his life story to Hollywood.
Forced out of home at 15, he lived rough for three years, turned to crime, attempted suicide, became a classical pianist – and now works with homeless young people at the Streetlife shelter to steer them away from the path he took.
Raised in a house in the centre of Blackpool, the 43-year-old says he was abused, bullied at school, and as a teenager began what would be a 15-year addiction to amusement arcades.
“The joke was that Funland was my second home,” Brant said. “I was sleeping rough from 15 and it used to be open 24 hours a day at the weekend so it was somewhere to stay warm and safe.
“But when it wasn’t open I had to sleep on the streets and I found nooks and crannies where I could stay out of the public eye.
“Violence was always a threat, mainly from passers-by, people partying. They’d see a guy on the streets, unkempt, an easy target and they’d shout names, kick you, spit on you or even worse.
“It really isn’t a great place to be, horrific. When you’ve been homeless for a while you learn which places are safer. But when it happens to you the first time – literally not having a roof over your head – that is very daunting.
“I had to get money to survive and I turned to crime. I burgled an arcade a number of times to feed my habit. They were going to get all the money back. I wouldn’t do anything against people, but I just had to feed my habit – addiction to the arcades - and also to eat.
“There was no Streetlife back in the 1980s, no day centres, and soup kitchens were generally for older people. There was nothing specifically for young people.
“In fact, amusement arcade addiction wasn’t recognised as an addiction back then so I couldn’t get help. It is now, which is a step in the right direction.
“The lowest I got was when I tried to commit suicide once. I tried to drown myself in the sea at North Pier. I didn’t make it but I know people who did.
“I went back home when I started at Blackpool Sixth Form College and fortunately for me I had always been a talented musician so I was able to take an A-level in music.
“People saw my addiction for what it was and saw I wasn’t actually a bad person. I got out of it by surrounding myself with people of a similar musical mind and therefore I didn’t feel sidelined any more. Because I was accepted I didn’t need to play truant or run away from home and after sixth form I was offered a place at a music college in Colchester. I grabbed the opportunity and moved 250 miles away.
“I am now a published composer. I give piano lessons and I know a lot of people around me are very proud of how I’ve turned my life around.
“It took a long time to kick my arcade addiction though. I was 30 years old, engaged and my wife to be said she wouldn’t marry me until I kicked the habit, so I saw a therapist and she somehow managed to sort my problem entirely. Thirteen years on I haven’t been to an arcade since.
“I bought my wife for a holiday in Blackpool a few years ago and she said she wanted to live here. We moved back and I discovered the work Streetlife does and wanted to volunteer.
“I try to tell people how lucky they are to have a facility like Streetlife. They have a place to eat, socialise and a shelter to sleep in if they are going to be out on the streets. It makes such a difference.
“I think the young people listen to me because I used to be in the same situation they were. Empathy is a very useful tool in dealing with people.
“Hopefully I can help solve some of their problems and make their lives worth living again.”
CASE STUDY 2: ‘It’s scary - you don’t know who’ll find you’
KARL has just come out of prison. He is 23 and has been homeless for three years.
It’s easy to write him off – then you hear his story.
“My mum had me when I was 17 and by the time she was 20 she had four kids. She couldn’t cope so she put the eldest three – me and my two sisters – in care.
“I have been in 52 different care homes since I was three-years-old because apparently I was a problem child. They couldn’t handle me so I kept getting moved about.
“I’ve been living on the streets of Blackpool for a long time and it is horrible. I spend most nights on the land at the back of the airport, out of the way of people, so they wouldn’t know where I was, staying in abandoned houses. It is scary, especially the first couple of months, because you don’t know who is going to come and find you and whether you are going to get done over. You could die of hypothermia, so you always have to be one step ahead and you learn fast.
“There have been nights when I’ve gone to the hospital with some fake illness just to keep warm.
“The worst thing is the way people look at you, like I’m a scumbag or a tramp. But people shouldn’t judge because it doesn’t matter whether someone has holes in their pants or if they’ve not got a home, at the end of the day they might be a decent person. I go to Streetlife as much as I can and without it I probably wouldn’t be here.
“Outside the shelter the other day they were recruiting for the Army and I’ve put my name down and got an interview. They’ve told me they want to help and to give homeless people a chance. I want to go into the infantry. You get an education, you get money, food, somewhere to sleep, it would be luxury for me.”
CASE STUDY 3: ‘When I get money I book into a B&B’
BADLY in debt and unable to pay the rent, Lee was kicked out of his flat. He has been living rough since.
He gets £112 Jobseeker’s Allowance every fortnight, money he has to survive on until the next payday.
But he doesn’t carefully budget or plan how to make the money last two weeks. He blows it all on the first day.
It is tempting to dismiss that as stupid, until he explains why.
“When I get the money, I book a hotel – nothing fancy, just a nice little B&B. I buy a few cans of beer and I chill out watching TV.
“Why? For that one night I feel like a normal person. I have a bed.
“Then the next day I’m back on the street – but what keeps me going is that I’ll have another nice night in a couple of weeks time. It’s my way of staying sane.”
Lee uses Streetlife as he looks for work, and to shelter from the Fylde coast elements.
“I use the Streetlife night shelter whenever I can,” he added. “When it’s full, I have to find somewhere else and one place to go is the toilets.
“We call them the 20p hotels because if you go last thing at night you can pay 20p to get in and then stay there, in a dry place, until the cleaners come at seven the next morning.
“What’s it like? It’s like the Hilton. No, it’s awful. It stinks but it is a case of needs must, especially if it is raining.
“I’m in this situation because I had a flat and I messed it up, got in debt. I am trying to get in a hostel (the first step towards getting permanent accommodation for a homeless person)
“Without Streetlife we would have nothing to do and nowhere to go.”
CASE STUDY 4: ‘You have to hit rock bottom to come back’
STEPHEN, 54, now works as a volunteer at the very centre which helped him most – Blackpool’s Salvation Army Bridge Project.
“I had to give something back.
“Homelessness. Ask yourself what it means.
“For me it meant rock bottom, destitute, you have to hit it before you can come back. I’ve got a flat now but I’m still not 100 per cent stable. When I am it will feel like home.
“I used to sleep in Stanley Park. It was safer there than in the town centre. I am an ex-addict if you can ever be an ex-addict. I’ve been clean for nearly 18 months.
“These people don’t write you off. They helped me. They loved me. They have even helped me build my flat up.
“I came to Blackpool from a hostel in Blackburn. Within two days I heard about this place and to me it became a refuge but not one to abuse, just use for food and warmth and shelter without making a go of yourself.
“That’s why I help out now. People come in, get something to eat, warm up, talk to staff if they have an issue, and then get out because they know there’s a queue out there most days.
“We worry about the future. If this place closed we would be devastated. There is nowhere else for this age group to go. Others would be lost. You count on the Salvation Army. It’s like the safety net for lost souls, it catches those the others just won’t touch because of the lack of a local connection.
“Drugs took a lot but I’m getting it back now.
“Even my family. When I first got the flat I didn’t want my mum or sisters to see it until I’d got it right. Made it a home. It’s getting there now. It’s a roof above my head but it’s beginning to feel like home. But this place, the Bridge, this is home. This is where the heart is, where the biggest hearts are. Support it if you can. We’re broken people but we can be mended. It’s never too late. I thought it was, for me. Now I believe in myself.”
CASE STUDY 5: ‘Being homeless can happen to anyone’
NOEL Brookes used to sell Rolls Royces to high rollers in America. Then he got deported in the crack down on illegal workers post 9/11.
Today he manages the very hostel – the Ashley Foundation’s Oak House at North Shore – which put him up until two years ago when he found his feet.
“People like stereotypes. Homeless – it’s all drunks and druggies, yes? Well, no, actually.
“I’ve seen the reality. I was part of it. I lived the high life in America, drove my Corniche in Palm Springs, was a bit of a playboy. It all ended with 9/11. I contested my deportation, it was a clerical error, I was there legally.
“I spent a year fighting it, but by then I had lost everything, my house, my money, I had nothing left.
“They wanted to deport me to Ireland where I was born.
“I wouldn’t have known anyone there. So they sent me to London, just a few dollars, jeans, T-shirt, not much else. London wasn’t for me. I came back to Blackpool. I’d lived here for years before moving to America, had good memories of the town. It had been home. But I was starting from scratch.
“Ashley Foundation took me in, helped me. I couldn’t believe how much help they gave me. And that made me help myself. I focused on what I needed – to get myself established as an individual again, clear my head, get a flat and a job.
“I started working nights there and did so well they said come and manage the place. I am able to look at people and say, ‘hey, I was where you are right now’. I even stayed in that same room. I can do it, so can you. Most of these people are good people who have just lost their way. You don’t have to lose your way through drink or drugs. Just ask anyone worried about losing a job right now.”
HOW YOU CAN HELP
To donate to the work done by Streetlife visit the website www.streetlife-blackpool.co.uk and click on the red circle ‘donate now’. There is a step-by-step guide to giving money.
To support the Bridge Project get in touch with project leader Beverley Taylor on (01253) 299835.