Rising above the gutter

    When I heard my mate Andy had died I knew I had to get off the
    streets. I’d lived rough for 10 years and the bouts of pneumonia
    and bronchitis had taken their toll. I downed two cans of Special
    Brew and went to the housing advice centre again.

    The guy told me I could have a bed that night in a hostel if I got
    rid of my dog. There was no way was I giving up my best mate in
    exchange for a bed. The guy told me about an organisation that
    might help. I didn’t expect anything from this encounter so was
    amazed when I got a letter at the day centre a week later telling
    me to arrange for someone to assess my housing needs. I rang and
    was told a woman called Seonaidh would see me in a few days.

    I was looking at my 11th year on the streets. I was 37, a hardened
    alcoholic and Idistrusted people. The step to ask for help was
    massive for me. I’d have to choose between two contrasting worlds.
    The world I now found myself needing to enter again was where my
    nightmare had begun and I wondered whether the demons were still
    there.

    I was 27 when my seven-year-old son Luke died. He was the bravest
    child I ever knew. He was born with a rare skin disorder that meant
    his skin blistered and came off. I was told Luke would live for six
    weeks. He survived but I wasn’t allowed to touch him and fed him by
    pipette. In the end the disorder didn’t get a chance to kill him.
    In 1990 he was electrocuted on a railway line the day after Boxing
    Day. I have three other children whom my ex-husband took when I was
    heading for a breakdown. I haven’t seen them since as he told them
    I was dead.

    On the morning of the meeting with Seonaidh I sat with my
    dysfunctional street family but said nothing about my plans. I felt
    like a traitor. But what if she wanted to help me? I’d be sneaking
    off with the enemy. I left my dog with them and lied about where I
    was going

    Instantly I liked Seonaidh, with her Scottish accent and Dr Martens
    boots. I explained the circumstances that led me to becoming a
    dosser and she didn’t tut or judge me. I knew she’d listened when
    she said she could help me get somewhere to live with my dog after
    Christmas. I knew the other world stopped for Christmas but
    nightmare land would be open all hours as usual, and my drinking
    buddies would be out and about. I felt sick when I thought about
    “going back” to the other world. I’d never been to prison but I
    knew plenty who had and I felt like a convict awaiting sentence,
    the difference being that I would decide my own destiny.

    I crawled out of the gutter with my dog still by my side in January
    2000. If I hadn’t have been referred to Leeds housing support team
    I know I would have joined my friend Andy by now.

    Jayne Scadden used to be homeless and now lives in
    supported housing.

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