“I have been homeless twice — once when I was twenty-three and again at thirty. Both times it was due to mental health problems.
The first time it happened I left my job because I wasn’t well. I went to stay with my parents, but it didn’t work out and my dad asked me to leave. Then I went to stay with friends.
I was still struggling and one night I had a panic attack. My friends said, “We love you but you are driving us mad.” So I left and wandered the streets.
I went to a local hostel but they turned me away, saying: “Men only, try a B&B.” My thoughts had gone haywire and I felt tormented. I just didn’t know where to go.
I went to a male friend who turned me away — until he realized I was desperate. Then he made me a bed on his living room floor. He arranged for me to stay with some of his female friends but in my unbalanced state, I felt uncomfortable doing this.
I had been going to outpatient appointments at a local mental health hospital. At my next visit with the psychiatrist, I was so desperate I asked if they could take me in. I was admitted for six weeks and although it was tough, it did lead to a turnaround. They got me on medication. When I left, I got a rented room and rebuilt my life. I got a part-time job and later went on to study.
The same time I became homeless it followed a similar pattern. I had been working part-time in a shop but ending up leaving. So I had no job and rent to pay. I applied for benefits but the money got sent to the wrong account. Eventually, I got it sorted out but then I became ill. I withdrew from the benefits system because I found it too complicated to handle in my confused state. I soon couldn’t afford the rent and had to leave my property.
A few friends tried to help me, and one even tried to help me access benefits. I stayed at people’s houses for a few nights. My relationship with my family became strained and I was taken to a local mental health hospital. Thankfully, I never slept rough or on the streets but I was close to sleeping in a park.
The whole experience was terrifying, not knowing where I was going to spend the night. I felt abandoned and alone. At times I had no one to turn to. I would ask friends if I could sleep on their floor. They came through for me at first then the help ran out.
I have warned off hostels so I didn’t want to go there. You get so many knockbacks. I remember all my belongings being stuffed into a few bags I carried around with me. Eventually, things got better and I clawed my way back to sanity and got a good job.
Mental illness, poverty, and homelessness were intertwined in my case — I’m sure that’s the situation for a lot of people. Safety nets can fall apart and I went into a downward spiral. I would like to see the end of the stigma to homelessness. It can be a terrifying and devastating experience that no one should go through.”
Caroline Ryan’s Story
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