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17 October 2014updated 05 Oct 2023 8:28am

“I could be homeless again tomorrow, and the council would be no help whatsoever”

Tony, 48, became homeless after losing his job. Unable to find work or a place to live, he slept wherever he could – first under a bridge and later in the local forest where he felt safe. It was a particularly bad winter. Cold and desperate, he went to his council for help, but despite having a heart condition, they turned him away with no choice but to continue sleeping rough.

By Tony Finney

I went from losing my job to sleeping rough within a month. It’s a big shock to the system to find that one minute you have a flat, a job, and then you’re sleeping under a bridge.

I was working as a night porter. I lost my job, which led to me losing my accommodation because I couldn’t afford the rent. I sofa surfed for a little while, but obviously you can’t burden people for that length of time, and so I ended up street homeless.

I moved all over the country looking for work and accommodation. I moved down to Exeter where I slept under a bridge by the motorway. I was found by their street rescue service and they pointed me towards a day centre, which relocated me to London where I had local connections.

I was at a real low ebb. I was sleeping in the forest because I didn’t want to get kicked or punched. It was a really bad winter, probably one of the worst we’d had in a long time. I’d not been eating properly. I was weak and worried – because you’re always worried about where you’re going to find food.

Going to the council felt like my last resort – I’d tried everything else. When I went in, it felt claustrophobic. It felt like quite an angry place.

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I approached the lady at the desk and said: “I’m homeless and I need help with housing”. And she said: “You’re not going to get it”. That was before they even knew anything about me. She was very clinical – just bouncing me off straight away without giving me a chance.

As soon as you walk in there, because you’ve mentioned that you’re homeless, they look straight through you. If I’d been dressed in a suit, I think the lady would have had a different attitude. But because I was a bit scruffy, probably not washed properly, they do look at you differently. And they shouldn’t. There was a touch of discrimination.

Eventually she made me an appointment with the homeless team, who told me the same thing. They couldn’t help because I wasn’t vulnerable enough, not a priority. My way of looking at it is: I’m homeless, I’m vulnerable. For me, anybody who’s out on those streets with nowhere to live is vulnerable. And that’s why people are dying. I had unstable angina, but it didn’t make any difference. To be fair, she was sympathetic to my condition, and she wished she could do more, but you’ve got to be in a certain bracket before they even consider helping you.

Overall I think the attitude was wrong. It’s too much about meeting criteria and stereotyping people. As soon as you walk in there you are a problem. I don’t think they’re treating people as individuals. It made me feel more depressed, because you’re just running out of options.

After getting turned away, Crisis was a real god-send. Between Crisis and the Church, I managed to find my way out of it. But there’s still that vulnerability. I could be homeless again tomorrow. And the council would be absolutely no help whatsoever.

Since then I’ve volunteered at night shelters and at Crisis, and the stories I hear are always the same. You may be in a desperate situation but even then, I think the majority of people are getting turned away. It doesn’t paint a pretty picture.

You’re one wage packet away from homelessness. It can happen to anybody. And there needs to be a safety net in place when that happens. That’s why I’m supporting Crisis’s No One Turned Away campaign. Politicians need to look again at the help single homeless people get from their council.

The law isn’t working and more and more people are going to end up on those streets. This has got to be at the government’s door. People have got to be raising banners and making people aware of what’s going on.

When my council turned me away I felt like a second-class citizen. It was a horrible feeling. When I left the council I went back to the forest. I found some cardboard, put that down, my sleeping bag, and I was just back there. I remember being very lonely. And I had this feeling that the government didn’t care at all.

Crisis has launched a major campaign and petition – No One Turned Away – calling for party leaders to commit to review the help single homeless people get under the law

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