If you’ve been following this blog, or my tweets on twitter, you’ll know that it has been a rough ride, for some time, up until the last blog post. That post described me basically getting back onto my feet. You may notice that I’ve not updated this blog for nearly 3 weeks. It’s been a horrendous 3 weeks.
So, I left the hostel in Bristol, to go stay with my brother, his disabled wife and her daughter. Her father was also staying there, as his wife was having severe irrational and allegedly violent episodes, sounding very much to me like dementia. This had him highly agitated, along with bombshells of infidelity. So he was generally stomping around the place, effing and blinding. I appreciate he was suffering, I know that he needed to vent, but the aggression was really affecting me, pushing me deeper into my shell. On top of that, he was chopping and changing as to where he was sleeping each night, which saw me shunted from sofa to camp bed and back again several times.
I got myself registered at the local GP, on the housing register for Homes4Wiltshire and under their equivalent of the Mental Health crisis team, the Intensive Support team. Once the shock and turmoil of the Bristol inner-city hostel subsided, everything started to crash in on me. It hit me hard, just how much I’ve lost. My home, the love of my life, the dog and her youngest daughters, who are all still very special to me. Away from almost everything I own, in a strange place. Now, my brother suffers from bi-polar disorder and it was a concern I raised before he collected me from Bristol. I noticed the additional strain my presence and all the upheaval in his home and to his carefully curated life was putting on him. I was slipping downwards and under questioning by one of the Intensive Support workers, I had my third major meltdown in as many days. This triggered my brother, who became verbally aggressive and I had the urge for “flight”. I wandered around the outskirts of Trowbridge and found a derelict farm with sheltered, dry outbuildings, for the night, in Hilperton.
The following morning, I tried making my way back to Trowbridge, but got lost. Sat on a roadside bench, exhausted and was found by the police, who held me under section 136 of the Mental Health Act, until an ambulance took me to Green Lane hospital in Devizes for assessment. There I was looked after by a HCA who told me she had prepared a room for me and that I’d be able to go there to wash and sleep if I needed to. Then a consultant psychiatrist, the ward psychiatrist, some student psychiatrists and a social worker turned up to assess me.
We discussed things as they were, my risks, my history and my plans. They go off to discuss things among themselves. On their return, they tell me that they felt I would find it more distressing to stay in a separate room on the ward, than to get back to Trowbridge and return to my brother’s house, even after I explained how the environment was affecting myself and my brother. They then threw in that I wasn’t an acute enough case and justified it by saying how I had eloquently expressed myself. They offered to call me a taxi back to Trowbridge and I left telling them I had no money to pay for it. I didn’t realise at the time that they were also going to pay for the taxi.
On my walk back from Devizes to Trowbridge, I was destroyed, all hope lost, all faith in any help arriving, gone. Then I started getting texts from my brother saying that I should stay away from his house. I told him I needed my stuff and was told he’d leave it outside the house. Things escalated from there and there were threats of violence against me, requests for my laptop password, so it could be sold to help cover my funeral expenses and finally that I’d better hurry up as “people are eyeing up your things”. His bipolar disorder was really in overdrive. I’m not applying blame to him, this was always a risk.
Eventually I had to lay down on a verge at the side of the road, exhausted. It transpired I’d made it about two thirds the way from Devizes to Trowbridge. At some point, a paramedic pulled up. Gave me water, as I hadn’t eaten or drank for 3 days, and got me chatting. He called it in, informed the authorities, pulled up into a layby and basically befriended me for about 4 hours. The guy, Paul I think his names was, became a pillar to lean on. He liaised with the police who through EDS?? found me emergency accommodation for the night at a local Travel Lodge hotel. Prior to arriving at the hotel, Paul pulled into a petrol station, returning with a large lemon flavoured mineral water, a packet of fruit shorties and a packet of Jaffa cakes. Insisting I have them. He even helped carried my bags to the room. THAT is a shining star of the NHS. Thank you Paul, you were amazing.
The following morning, I got a call from the hospital to go see them at 2.30pm. I left my bags with reception, as I had to check out by midday. I got back to the hospital and waited until 2.30 to be told the exact same thing that I had been told the day before, with emphasis on “you’re not an acute enough case”. I fell apart. I remember crying, groaning and fighting off panic attacks. I was informally advised to go and present as homeless at the Devizes council office, which wasn’t far from the hospital. Devizes town centre was suitably intimidating and scary in my highly anxious, near panic attack state, but some how, I found my way to the library, where I spoke with a clerk, who used some internal messaging system to contact somebody in Wiltshire Council who would call me back. All this was the correct process, apparently. Library clerks now double up as receptionists for homeless enquiries, in Wiltshire. I left the library and went to sit on a nearby bench.
Around 4.30pm I got a call from the housing guy to hear my case and was told I’d get a call back soon. While I was waiting for that call, the police pulled up. Apparently the hospital had reported me as a risk to myself. I am struggling to reconcile how I wasn’t deemed suitable for admission but was enough of a risk to myself, to warrant them calling the police on my departure. Anyway, the Council guy calls back and I let him talk with the police on my behalf, I was frazzled. The police then took me to a local Police station, via the hotel to collect my things and sat me in their canteen with a cup of tea, while they made a lot of inquiries into emergency housing for me.
This was found and I was then taken to a hostel in Chippenham. Initially I was placed in a dormitory room with two other guys. One had two black eyes and generally looked like he’d been used as a punch bag. The other seemed to be suffering from severe substance abuse and self harm, from what I could make out in my hyper-vigilant state. When the hostel guy came back to check on me, he could see I was struggling and tried to reassure me. He invited me up to the office for a chat. It was then that they decided to bend the rules and allow me to stay in a room on my own, with a set of bunk beds in it.
The following morning, I woke up and had a meltdown at the prospect of making my way to the council offices in Chippenham, to present there as homeless. I was looking around for something to cut myself with. I had had enough and couldn’t take any more. A couple of members of staff then came to me and calmed me down, then took me to the council offices. I explained my case, gave permission for the housing officer to talk to, and the details for, my brother and the Devizes Intensive Support team and was told he’d take around half an hour or so. I went to sit alone outside and ended up calling the Samaritans and sobbing down the phone at them. I remember a couple of ladies asked me if I was okay and guide me back inside and having a word with reception about me. I just lay down on the seating, out of the way, and stared into space.
The council guy came back saying he’d spoken to Intensive Support, my brother and looked at my Homes4Wiltshire housing application. As my brother didn’t want me to go back to his place, understandably and I wasn’t keen on it either, I no longer had a local connection and so Wiltshire Council were not obliged to help me. He told me in no uncertain terms that I should return to Bristol, “where you have already paid into the system” (eh? I thought I’d paid in through the Income Tax and National Insurance system). He told me there was a railway station nearby and that it was about eight and a half pounds for the fare. I left there and was angry now. This was an absolutely, stone-cold, heartless insult. The bastards!
So I made my way back to the hostel to collect my things. I had to jettison two big chunky jumpers as I couldn’t carry them and a member of staff found me a strong bag for life that I managed to squeeze the remainder of my things into that wouldn’t fit into my backpack or large holdall. I was also advised in private and completely off the record, in a hushed tone, to “Rock up at A&E and throw a proper wobbler. A right shit storm.”
I then headed back through Chippenham centre and the anger started to wear off, to be replaced by the anxiety of being out in public, in this state, stereotypically homeless in a very visual way and being me, there, alone, close to panic. At that point I made eye contact with a squaddie and blurted out, “train station?” He gave me simple directions, and as I headed off, he called out to me. “Excuse me, can I help you with that?” Bless him, another shining star lands beside me.
He said to his girlfriend that he’d see her in about quarter of an hour somewhere nearby, took the heaviest of my stuff and led the way at a leisurely pace, with his own backpack and stuff as well as mine. We chatted a bit, he asked what the score was with me and I gave him the recap of the council office. He was pretty unhappy to learn of it. He then waited as I got my ticket, then walked over the stairs and bridge to the right platform. I’d learned that he’d just arrived by train, home on leave and met his girlfriend in town. He’d unselfishly put that moment aside to help a complete stranger and apparently his girlfriend was cool with it too. A young couple. Hopefully an example of their generation that we’ll see more of.
So, I get back to Bristol and luckily the council offices are close to Temple Meads station. I presented again as homeless. This initially started off very badly. Firstly it was said that it was very late in the day, why hadn’t I come earlier. That took a bit of time to explain that I’d just got back after being sent packing by Wiltshire council. Through the first hoop. I then explained that I’d registered about 5-6 weeks before as homeless, had gone via the hostel, to my brother’s in Trowbridge, ended up at the council offices in Chippenham and had been told to go back to Bristol. I was initially told that because I had left the first hostel of my own accord, when I went to my brother’s, I had come off the list to be found new accommodation and that they no longer had an obligation to help. I tried to argue the case and he told me that I would have been told that when I left. I can categorically say I had not been. Eventually I was told that I’d been given the benefit of the doubt and was provided with an address in Easton, another inner city area that I’d usually avoid as a Bristolian.
Now I had to walk about a mile and a half to two miles, I think, laden with all my stuff, to a place that I was terrified at the prospect of arriving in. Thankfully I had somebody from the Bristol Crisis Team that I’d been under before, on the phone for about 15 minutes of the journey, reassuring me. I am in a right state at this point. Eventually I arrive here and am greeted by a larger than life Lithuanian woman, who pretty much put me at ease by some kind of silent command with her straight-up but calming presence. She booked me in, showed me where I needed to know and showed me to my room. It is, I guess, a half-way house. A stepping stone near the start of the process.
It has been a revelation. I was first greeted by a petite Somalian woman, who instantly kicked into reassurance mode after seeing my eyes. Then I sat alone with my thoughts and along came a young lad with Borderline Personality Disorder who, after taking a look at me, sat down to make conversation. He clearly suffers badly, but had that empathy and understanding, to see how I was and what would help. I’ve since found he and his girlfriend to be good company for an hour or so in the garden. There are some tragic stories here, the most galling of which is a single dad with 3 young sons who has been badly let down after the landlord turfed them out of the ONE bedroom flat they’d been staying in for FIVE years. The most noticable thing about him, was his obvious focus on his sons and what really nice kids they were. This is a man who is doing a great job of raising his kids after having to give up work to take them on full time, when their mother turned to using heroin. He’s doing it on his own and the system is failing him horribly. There’s three women here fleeing domestic violence and a few I haven’t seen as they don’t come out of their rooms when anybody’s about. That was me at the first hostel, a few weeks ago.
On the whole, it is calm here. There’s no chronic substance abuse going on. We’re all genuine people in really dire straits, landed into the same house together. There’s empathy and understanding in droves, because we’re all living it together. Trust is still a big issue for me and I’m not going to allow myself to be vulnerable to some of the few crafty tricks I see floating around. But these people are generally calmer than I’ve had around me in recent weeks and in the same situation as me, through no apparent fault of their own.
The whole experience has been really traumatic and has so very nearly finished me off completely. I’ve been at the sharp end of the cold heartlessness that the things meant to protect the most vulnerable in society can inflict upon them. However, I have also encountered some genuine, kind, compassionate people along the way. These people have shone out brightly, which is maybe a sad indictment of how society has lost its widespread compassion it was once famed for. I hope I’m wrong on that and that it is merely my perspective from a dark and difficult place. The kindness and consideration I have been shown by some of the Bristol crisis team people, Bristol City Council housing, my brother – initially, police, paramedics/ambulance staff, HCAs, hostel staff, a squaddie just back on leave, people on twitter reaching out to me in direct messages and public tweets and people in a similar position to myself here where I currently am, has been breathtaking now that I think back on it.
Just need to wait for the weekend to be over to hopefully get the promised medication review underway, which I so desperately need and to see what needs to be done housing wise and what support I can get, in my totally frazzled and disconcerted state, to navigate these systems.
As always, updates may arrive as things develop.