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Robert's Story

Robert's Story

‘Robert’, a young man in his early 20s, was recently released from Maghaberry Prison. After another period of ‘sofa surfing’ and staying in hostel accommodation, Robert has now moved into a private rental, due to the help and support he received from a local youth organisation. Robert claimed that he was literally given taxi fare to Belfast and arrived in the city in the midst of the pandemic and lockdown.

“There was nothing open. Nothing at all. I literally had nowhere to go. The NIHE told me that they would put me up in a B&B miles away and pay my taxi fare to get there. I was like, “Why would you spend all that money in a taxi when you could find something for me in Belfast?” Anyway, I wasn’t getting anywhere, so I stayed with mates, one night here and one night there. But no-one was really wanting anyone in their house. There is a pandemic after all. I went to the (name removed) and I was like, ‘I am literally staying on the streets tonight.’ They helped me and they’ve continued to help me.”

This help and support also gave Robert the confidence to start a full-time, albeit temporary, job in a supermarket. Explaining that he now feels ‘more settled’ and is even starting to think about his future, the worry about losing his job, which was created to cope with the demand in online shopping during the Covid-19 pandemic, is always at the forefront. Unemployment for Robert would mean that he would have to leave his flat, which would throw him back into the cycle of homelessness that he has experienced since he was a teenager. Robert explained that he first became part of the ‘hidden’ homeless population at the age of 16, after he received a death threat from paramilitaries.

“I had to leave my parent’s house, they didn’t want any trouble coming to their door. At first, I stayed on friend’s sofas and stuff, and I went to some family who lived out of the way. But people were scared and I knew they didn’t want me hanging about. I was just left to myself. I went to a few hostels. It was so hard staying in them, it’s not the kind of place you want to be. There were drug addicts and all sorts in it. I didn’t get on with the manager in one place, so I left.”

Speaking of the many challenges he faced during this time, Robert stated that the most detrimental thing for him, was that there was ‘no end in sight.’ Quite simply, he could never envisage having a home and enjoying the sense of security that would bring, which left him feeling hopeless.

“Even at 16 I was working. I don’t know how I done it, but I always managed to hold down a job. It was really hard, cause (sic) I never knew where I would be from one day to the next. And there were times when I was thinking, ‘I would be better off not working.’ When I was in one hostel, they asked me for money for staying there. I was like, ‘I am on minimum wage as it is, how am I ever going to save to get out of here if I have to pay to stay here?’ It was madness, I was really trapped.”

Feeling totally isolated and alone, Robert began to engage in negative behaviours which ultimately led to his imprisonment. Whilst he takes responsibility for his actions, he does feel that things could have been different for him, had he received the help and support he needed when he first became part of the ‘hidden’ homeless population. Moreover, upon leaving prison, Robert was again vulnerable, lacking the confidence and resources to rebuild his life, starting with the fundamental basics of having a roof over his head.

“I’ve went to the NIHE many times over the years. I just can’t speak to these people, I ended up getting thrown out one time. I was so angry cause I just need a home. They don’t know how to speak to young people. It’s madness being so young and having nowhere to go. Even when I got out of prison there, it was like, ‘Away you go.’ I just hope that I can stay in this flat now, I need to get my life together. I know that a house is just so important, that’s why I’m just getting the head down in work. Maybe even one day I can get back to education or something. It’s just crazy to think that my life has been upside down for so long. I just wish things had’ve (sic) been different. I don’t want this to be life, I don’t want to be passed from pillar to post and in and out of prison. I just need to keep things right.”

At Simon Community NI we respect everyone who comes to us for help. While this story is true, the identity of the participant in our Hidden Homelessness research has been changed to protect their privacy.