“People have said before that they don’t expect me to be in supported accommodation because I can function well on my own and can get things done. That just shows the misconceptions they have about it. They think it is people’s own fault if they are homeless, but that isn’t true.
There is still a lot of stigma attached to the word ‘homeless’. People think about addiction – drugs, alcohol and stuff – but it isn’t necessarily that.”
Chantae moved to Crocus House in May 2022. Now, less than a year later, she has already left and moved into her own place in Croydon.
“It was all really quick. I went through the paperwork with my support worker and then one week later I was ready to move out. It does feel daunting, and there’s definitely more responsibility and new things to sort out like bills and rent.
If I wasn’t planning on going to university I might have stayed at Crocus longer. I really like it, it’s better than anywhere else I have stayed. It feels like people care there.”
Chantae stayed at several different supported housing services before coming to Evolve. Prior to that she was in emergency accommodation provided by Croydon council, after she had to leave her family home.
“When I became homeless I was still studying. I told one of my teachers what was happening, and they and the college supported me massively. They contacted adult social services, and through them I was housed in Norbury. There was no internet in the place I was staying, but I still had to do my coursework and prepare for exams. I worried I would fail, but I actually got good grades in the end.
It was a really hard time. I felt like I was being ignored by everyone. There was a point where I was in full-time education but was homeless, didn’t have a job, and my mental health was really bad. My emergency accommodation was basically just a room, with nothing else provided. There were communal areas like kitchens, but what’s the point of a kitchen if you have no plate or a knife and fork?”
At the time Chantae couldn’t go straight to university as planned. Now, she is preparing to start her psychology degree in the autumn.
“I feel like it’s overdue. Living in supported accommodation meant I couldn’t easily go to uni because of the costs of covering it all. It’s frustrating that my plans have been pushed back because the idea feels less fresh and exciting. I have also been out of education for two years, and almost worry that I have slipped intellectually, somehow; I feel like there has been a change in how I speak and communicate. I have done an apprenticeship and stayed busy in that time, but the system doesn’t always encourage you to get out and do stuff. The way benefits are set up, if you work too many hours you actually end up losing money because your support stops, which is really difficult.
I worry about getting back into a routine and full-time education, but I’m going to give it a shot. Until then I want to volunteer to build my skills and experience. I have just finished some training run by Evolve and am going to start supporting breakfast clubs and events. I have also applied for placements to mentor people in prison and people with substance abuse issues.
I wanted to be a forensic psychologist, but now I have lived in this system I want to go into the homelessness sector. There are things about it on the inside that I can help to change, and I think people with lived experience can make the best support workers. I wouldn’t sit there and say I understand what people are going through, because I don’t know how they feel or how they process things. But, even though each person’s situation is different, having a similar experience can help you know what to say and how to respond.
Homeless people are very misjudged, and people should be open minded when they think about the issue. Not everyone in this situation is an addict or has done something wrong. Everyone has different circumstances; they might have had a relationship breakdown with family, or an abusive partner, or maybe they lost their job. Whatever it is, lots of things can happen that aren’t someone’s fault but still mean that they end up homeless. People think that if it happens it’s your choice, but that isn’t true. I want to get that point across to people on the outside: homelessness is not a choice, and it could happen to anybody.”