Abdul has been living and working in England for 20 years. He originally came to the country from Sudan with his wife and children, but a combination of cramped living conditions and a poorer quality of life than he would have liked to provide meant that they returned to Sudan, whilst he remained in England. He was working in customer service and renting a flat at the time; sending any money left at the end of the month back to his family, as his wife, who was working part time as a nurse, did not earn a lot.
In 2004, Abdul enrolled onto a BA Information and Systems Information Systems course with the help of his local council, graduating successfully in 2008. However, it was difficult to secure a job in this field so he took on various customer service roles ranging from retail to data entry roles at his local hospital. In 2011, things began to look up when he successfully took on a job with the Foreign Exchange, starting as a cashier and working his way up to Sales Consultant. Hard working, and committed to the organisation, he worked there for nine years leading right up to the coronavirus outbreak, when he was furloughed. As a result of losing part of his salary, and not being able to work overtime like he would usually have done, his monthly earnings reduced substantially. Desperate to continue supporting his children abroad on his reduced income, Abdul left his existing tenancy and began living at his friend’s house, paying towards outgoings where he could. However, as the months passed, money became tight and his friend was no longer able to accommodate him. To make matters worse, in June, his employer contacted him to say that he no longer had a job.
At this point, Abdul’s world collapsed. He had nowhere to live, and no savings to even fund an overnight stay. He had no choice but to sleep rough. He found different churches in the local area for shelter, including the Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Nottinghill Gate and a church in Victoria which he ended up avoiding after he was intimidated by a group outside who regularly drank and threw bottles at him for disturbing their patch. When he needed safety, he would ride the night bus through the early hours.
Abdul was sleeping rough for 4 weeks and he describes this time as the darkest, most terrible period of his life – a period that he is not yet entirely out of. ‘Things are only coming against you, the whole world is against you, and everything feels like it has been lost. How could I speak to my wife and tell her what I’d become? I was empty inside, no future to even grasp at.’
One day when Abdul was sleeping at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral Church an Outreach Worker found him and took him to the Chelsea Day Centre where they helped him to fill out a Universal Credit Application, provided him with clothes and a sleeping bag and a contact for the Jesus Centre in Tottenham Court Road, where he could take showers and do his laundry. He was also advised to approach The Passage for additional support and food. Abdul says that he is thankful for this day because, it is through The Passage that he is now residing at Passage House (our residential temporary accommodation), which ‘feels like home.’
Abdul describes the people at Passage House as, ‘a family.’ Whereas before, he struggled from day by day to find anything to eat, he is given a choice and asked what he would like by Passage House’s chef, Micky, every day without fail, which is so far from what he would have ever expected after what he has been through. The staff have also given him a morale boost; his Case Worker, Kate, is constantly building him up and providing emotional and practical support with his job search.
Despite the encouragement and help from our services, Abdul says that his job hunt so far has been futile – with a number of recruiters coming back to him to say that they are not taking on staff and many of his applications being rejected. As well as electronic applications, he has also tried handing out CVs to shops that are open, but this has also proven tricky with coronavirus restrictions. He is also concerned that his age might work against him as he continues his efforts to secure another role in this extremely challenging climate.
At the moment, Abdul feels deflated, like he has lost his way. He was very teary when sharing his story. He is not sure when he will be able to support his family again which causes him heartache, and he hates the idea of not working after years of service, and before that, full-time education.
Homelessness is not a world that he knows, and he is very fearful. He describes coming onto the streets as ‘a car accident;’ unexpected, devastating and out of his control. The only redeeming factor has been the kindness that he has found in the staff at Passage House. In fact, they have inspired him so much, that he hopes that when he is able to return to working life that he can find a role or voluntary role that supports rough sleepers in the way that he has been.
‘If I can get a job that can add value or change someone’s life, then that would mean everything.’