I am 47 years old, have worked for the majority of my adult life, have no addictions or dependents, yet on January 7th 2016 found myself living in a tent in Mansfield. How did I get there? 

For me I guess the reasons began in childhood as is often the case. I was fostered at 2 years of age, adopted at 11 and never felt like I fit in anywhere. Don’t get me wrong, I was lucky, my adopted parents were fantastic people, but for some reason, I felt isolated, alone, and very different, it was only with our pets and outdoor with nature I ever felt comfortable, beginning my lifelong passion for ornithology and conservation resulting in many weeks spent volunteering on nature reserves for the RSPB and many hours in Rutland assisting with their osprey reintroduction project.

My feelings of isolation haunted me throughout my life, 2 failed marriages, flitting from job to job, and from friend to friend being the pattern of my life, until finally, in 2015, life became too much for me. I was unemployed, wasn’t claiming benefits, and had virtually locked myself away from the world outside. Finances belly up, I was without gas or electricity, even food, rent arrears were mounting up. I managed to obtain a bottle of whisky and a load of paracetamol, but the fear of dying alone was all that kept me from taking that step, a fear that has been a regular companion throughout my life.

So 07/01/2016 arrived, eviction imminent, I packed 2 bags and came to Mansfield and became just another homeless statistic. As luck would have it I discovered there was a soup kitchen in town that evening and it was here I was advised I could apply for a place at the weekend night shelter, so after a pretty sleepless night outdoors I made my way to the Civic centre and booked my spot.

The night shelter turned out to be a major turning point in my life. I have always had difficulty trusting new people and being amongst groups of people in particular has been a situation I try to avoid, even family gatherings. Though I have never truly understood why! On the 3rd night of that weekend I was given a possible explanation. I still don’t know why or how! But I made a decision to put trust in the shelter co-ordinator and ask for help, not for the homeless situation, I had accepted that, but for my mental health.

As mentioned before I felt different from the ‘norm’, the response I got took me completely by surprise. I was expecting ‘don’t be silly’ or ‘you’re just feeling down’, something along those lines, what I didn’t expect was that they thought, from observations over the 3 nights, that I may suffer from Asperger’s syndrome!  At first it meant nothing to be honest, I had heard the name but knew nothing about the symptoms. Once explained however it did seem plausible and upon further investigation I was overcome with emotion when I read an online description of me, even listing bird watching as ‘one of the obsessions a sufferer may cling to’.  If I was indeed to be diagnosed as a sufferer, it must surely follow that there was help available for me. This gave me hope, something that has been missing for so long now.

As I write this account of my story, I am now living in temporary accommodation, awaiting possible rehousing and a new start. I have been referred to an Asperger’s specialist in Sheffield for proper diagnosis, and then, I hope, to get the help I need. I am truly lucky, I only spent 3 weeks either sleeping rough or in the shelter, but even during this short period I was subjected to threats, abuse, even having things thrown at me.

This is why I have written my story. There are a shockingly high number of homeless people in this town and they are still people, not statistics! They each have their own story to tell and many still need the help and support I was fortunate to receive. I feel privileged to have met many of them and continue to still visit the shelter to socialise and keep updated with their progress.

Writing this also gives me the opportunity to thank the many volunteers who give up their time to help us, keeping us fed, providing basic essentials, even cutting our hair! You truly are all unsung heroes, without you, I honestly do not believe I would be sitting here now, with genuine hope for the future.