It’s a hostel life for us

You may have been following this blog and read the path that has led me here. If not, you can start from the very beginning, here.

If this is a next installment for you, then where were we? Ah yes, right here, where I am now. In a Salvation Hostel “crash pad”,  where I have been since 26th April.

How is that going?

Well, firstly I have to give credit to the staff who, on the whole, have been brilliant within and in some cases beyond their restrictions. My fellow residents are a very eclectic bunch. I see some people who I think should really be in a nursing home. A couple of frail old men, who really shouldn’t be here. Then there’s just a big old mix of the aftermath of various forms of substance abuse. Among them are numerous of those who are on their way to aftermath, developing or having already acquired crack, smack and spice habits. There’s like a little micro-economy to be observed, where each knows each other’s benefits payment day. I’m learning it quite easily. A given person’s benefits payment day is usually the day they first disappear for two or three days. I’m learning the ways, always learning.

A big hindrance at the moment is the aforementioned crash pad situation. A crash pad is a very temporary-term accommodation, here at the hostel. I’m not formally booked in as a resident, but am being given emergency accommodation. While I’m in this state of limbo, I don’t get assigned a support worker, so there is little that any of the staff can formally do for me. So far, I have had to try to navigate the benefits process unaided. Although I’m of a working background usually requiring a decent intelligence, my current state makes this a hugely daunting and confusing task. I have to give credit where it is due – and I’m amazed I can say this – but the guy I dealt with at the DWP to initiate the claim was just superb. He navigated me through the system for just over an hour and all I’ve had to do was get sick notes, showing my current severely depressed state.

I have also been well looked after by the Central Bristol Mental Health Crisis team. They’ve been very supportive in numerous ways, a little more on that in a bit. A piece of good news is that my mental health concerns are getting a bit of a fast tracking, at long last. Hopefully there is light at the end of this, so far, 30 year long tunnel.  I’ve had an assessment already. They’ve given their view which actually does mirror how I feel, how life has been. I have some faith that I am finally on the right path to recovery or at least good management of it all. I’m finally on the path to getting some long term talking therapy and they’re looking to phase me off the medication path that I’ve been on, on and off, for 15 or so of the last 25 years.

Housing is the concern at the moment. Being at the hostel isn’t helping with my already highly anxious state. It’s not exactly a calm environment most of the time. I’m also a bit “frightened of my own shadow” at the moment, so leaving the room is a challenge that I tend to try to set for when I know there is least corridor traffic. It’s as much about me as it is about my perception of them. On the whole the others here are downtrodden blokes with all hope sucked out of them. Some are in desperate positions, health wise, money wise, street wise. I’ve not seen any physical violence as yet and the only death since I’ve been here was a heart failure. But it feels volatile. I’ve seen the magnifying effects of a bit of excitement, positive or negative, soon builds an exponential pressure around it, taking everyone before it as fuel until everybody is part of an inferno. It isn’t a pleasant experience, but was quite an insight into another life. It isn’t all totally negative and hostile though. There’s times that I can clearly feel the unspoken “it’s tough going, isn’t it?” that seems to telepathically pass between me and random people I see about the place.

I’m looking to get out of this environment as soon as possible, for obvious reasons. The plan, as it stands, will be to try to move to Wiltshire, to be nearer to my brother. He’s been a genuine rock in recent weeks and is the base of a sizable support network that can be available to me. Moving out of the city is also likely to have a positive effect on me, in the longer term. I found this when I lived out of the city, in Thornbury.

So, I’m currently waiting to hear from the Mental Health Recovery Team, to learn what the long term plan is going to be for my support and therapy. I have been quite impressed with the mental health services, now that it has gotten to this stage. It would have been better, especially for me and those affected by my mental health, if this level of care and support had been available to me at any point when I have pleaded and begged for it. Rant over, I am acutely aware of the strains and limitations that they are under. Government cuts on health and social care have almost destroyed these vital services.

It looks like my benefit claim is now under way, so that is a relief. I’ll be able to eat. That has been a major part of the last few days. Let me expand on that a little. I spoke with my key / support worker and said that the emergency money I had been issued by Bristol City Council was going to run out or expire very soon. He went off and sorted something out and said he would come round to see me the following day.

Welcome to the foodbank

The crisis team guy came around in the middle of the afternoon to take me to a foodbank. Obviously, if you follow me on twitter, I am all too aware of the existence of foodbanks, I protest a bit against the reasons for their existence, to say the least.

This protesting is quite different to the realities of actually having to use one. I found it to be a breathtaking experience. The physical feelings that hit me during this experience took about a day and a half to wear off. The gut wrenching, chest tightening shame, sadness and indignity of what life is like right now.

So the guy from the crisis team takes me for a drive. We pull up near a pub I have sat outside of, having summer beers in happier times. Just past that I start seeing the foodbank vans coming and going. I am led into the hall, as in functions hall, into a sombre, almost morbidly hushed atmosphere. It felt sad and as the lovely little old ladies flitted around getting me a hot drink and some biscuits, it hit me, hard. It has come to this. I am about to be given food as a charitable hand out, in order to stop me starving. In a fairly major city, in the United Kingdom, in 2017, this is happening to me.

My stomach churned, my heart sank and I swear it tried its best to be swallowed up by my churning gut. The crisis team guy did pick up on this, knew what was going through my head and all he could really do was acknowledge it with me. It must be hard for these people, seeing this every shift, wanting to do more but not being able to, due to cuts and lack of resource from above. Fair play, he just made sure that I knew he was there with and for me and just silently acknowledged that yes, this was happening and NO, this was not right.

My eyes were welling up, my spirit felt broken. I glanced over at another guy who was there, on his own, but clearly going through the same emotions as me. I wanted to nod, to acknowledge that I felt his pain, but we were probably both too close to cracking point by then, that we both held firm in avoiding eye contact. It was a sad moment and one that I will hope to forget, in time.

I filled two and a half carrier bags with food. They’d picked tins that had ring pulls to get around my lack of tin opener and ensured that everything was microwaveable if it needed cooking. They didn’t hover around me, but were there as soon as they could see a question forming. Proper lovable old ladies wanting to do their bit to help those who need it. They know the indignity that people are going through. They are good at respecting that and not poking it further. I appreciated it.

We came back to the hostel and he brought me around through the staff entrance, so I didn’t have to walk past everybody with my carrier bags. There’s a couple of reasons for this. One it doesn’t pay to be seen as recently fortunate, or being in possession of stuff. Also, I just didn’t need the indignity of it. Eye contact is hard enough for me around here as it is.

So, as the days go by I’m hoping that I may be moved into something a little more permanent, so I qualify for the support that I really think I need in navigating the housing process. Just waiting on whatever, a decision, a vacancy, I don’t know.

I’ve been lucky not to have run out of money, by the generosity of social media users who have gifted donations to help me, while benefits are being sorted. This enabled me to buy food and other essentials. I’ve even got somebody sending me a hair/face grooming kit, so I can have a proper shave and sort my unruly hair out. Going to need to do-it-myself for a while, I think, to keep costs down. I’ll update on this when it arrives. A lovely gesture from a nice human being. There are more about than the news would have us think, it seems.

So, the anxiety is pretty high, but I can lock myself away in my small room and distract myself by ranting on about the state of the country, on twitter. I’d be lost without it at the moment, to be fair. Gotta have a focus and my political rants and raves give me that.

Hoping to get something moving soon on the housing side of things. Everything else appears to be ticking along as well as I could hope at this stage of things. For somebody who worked with large IT networks for a living, life seems to have become very complicated and confusing, all of a sudden. It’s a whole new world to me and I’m only taking it in at a blur.

So, in a nutshell. I’m safe, but not really appropriately accommodated for somebody in my condition. I accept that this is the way it is and am just grateful to be indoors, safe.

I’ll update further as and when things happen and turn up.

Thanks for your support. Much love.

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