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Roger's Story

Roger's Story

Roger is now in his mid-70s and settled in his own apartment in Belfast after a tumultuous few years. He lived with his wife and step-daughter but shortly after his 70th birthday his wife was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She became physically and mentally abusive towards Roger whose family knew nothing about what he was going through. Roger has since realised that the abuse had been ongoing throughout their marriage, and he just hadn’t acknowledged it. Roger has three children and five grandchildren from a previous marriage, but his second wife refused to allow him to see his family. Consequently, he had spent years sneaking out to celebrate things like Christmas and his grandchildren’s birthdays. Roger admits he was careless with his money and all his money went into his wife’s bank account and she would give him a weekly allowance to spend.

“I’ve worked my whole life. Since I was 15 and in the shipyard with my uncles I have been grafting. For 50 years I have been a carpet and floor layer. I have travelled all over Europe and earned a bucket load, but I haven’t a dime to my name. You see, working class men like me, we just were brought up to hand over our wages to the head of the house. First it was my mum and then it was my wives. It sounds stupid saying it now but that’s just the way it was. As long as we had a few ‘bob’ for the pub of a Saturday after the match that was grand. But it destroyed me not having cash in my hand to buy presents for my kids and grandkids. You just feel so worthless. Like when you call in to see them, you’d slip them some money to get themselves a treat. I did that and then hadn’t a penny until she (his wife) would let me have some more. She never worked a day and neither did her daughter – it was my money they were living off!”

When the physical abuse started Roger knew he had to get away, but he didn’t know where to go. He was embarrassed and he knew his family and friends detested his wife. He was worried they would tell him that he should never have married her and he only had himself to blame. Roger felt his only option was to get a mattress for the back of his work van and he would drive around at night before parking up near the house of a family member, usually his younger sister, and then call into see them first thing in the morning and make out he was just passing.

“I am in chronic pain with my knees after all those years laying floors. I am waiting for two knee replacements. I can barely walk half the time. I was scared to admit to people that I had ruined my life. I see all my mates and they show me pictures of them with their grandkids smiling and enjoying life. That should be me, but instead I was going home to be told I was worthless. She (his wife) bought a massive new TV, yet I was sat with a blanket round me to keep warm sitting in the garage listening to my wee radio. She wouldn’t let me in the house after I’d been working as I would make it too dusty apparently. I am not a wimp, I mixed it on a football pitch with the hardest of hard men back in the day. But you don’t hit a woman. Never, ever. I just took it. What option did I have?”

Things came to a head for Roger when a close relative died in England and his two sisters booked for the three of them to fly over and stay in a hotel to attend the funeral.

“I couldn’t afford it. I sat and cried in my van as they are my younger sisters, and I was letting them and my parents down by not looking after them. I was laying my sister’s floor at the time and my brother-in-law just knew I wasn’t right. He sat me down when my sister was at the shops and I told him I was broke. He paid for the whole trip and then when we were leaving to fly over he slipped £300 into my hand to buy drinks for the family over there. He told me to say it was all from me. He will never know what that meant to me.”

Roger was sharing a room in the hotel in England with his cousin who overheard his wife screaming abuse at him down the phone. His cousin told Roger’s sisters and he decided to tell them everything. It was then that his life got back on track.

“My sisters are strong Belfast women. Hard, but loving. They give me what for, and the moment we got back to Belfast I decided I wasn’t going back there. My sisters took me in. I smile about it now, but for days I worried about what would happen if either of my sisters ran into my ex-wife, all hell would have been let loose.”

Roger didn’t know where to turn to in terms of statutory agencies for support. His sisters approached an organisation specialising in accommodation for older people. Due to Roger’s diligence in paying taxes and national insurance throughout his life he was entitled to an apartment back in Belfast at a nominal rent. Roger is happier than he has ever been. He lives within walking distance of his sister, his cousin and two of his children. He gets to see his grandchildren most days, as his apartment is on their route home from school. Following legal action to get access to his bank accounts he found out he had enough money to buy a boat and return to sailing with his son. Something he had longed to do. However, he is keen to highlight that he still doesn’t know how he ended up in this position of having his own apartment and being able to live happily.

“I don’t know what forms I signed or what I was getting. My sister was with me, thank God, and she knows about all this kind of thing. The nice young fella at the housing place asked loads of questions, but to be honest I didn’t know what he was talking about. Then when I moved in, I couldn’t get the gas or electric or TV sorted. I had a bunch of documents but every time I phoned and sat on hold, they would tell me to go online or give them my email address. I don’t have a computer and don’t want one. I just wanted a card or something so I could dander up to the shop and top up my heating when I needed it. The nephew sorted it though and it is all in his name. I just leave the money in an envelope and he lifts it when we go to the match. That keeps me 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.