When he became homeless, Jon spent six months living in a truck with his girlfriend.
It could easily happen to any of us. You fall behind with the rent, the bills stack up, stress leads you to lose your job – and then your flat. Suddenly, you find yourself with nowhere to go. Jon, 40, and his girlfriend, Rachel, found themselves in just this situation: ‘The bills got larger and larger and we just couldn’t afford to pay.’
Staying in the truck was supposed to be a short-term solution, giving them a roof over their heads while they got themselves back on track – but it ended up being six months before they got out of their situation and neither of them realised the toll it would take on their mental and physical health – or that it would leave them living in fear.
‘We thought it would be fun – and it was at times – but the most over-riding feeling was one of fear,’ says Jon.
‘We had a bed, a cooker, but no fresh water, so we couldn’t wash. Our food waste would build up and we’d have to dump it in public bins. There was no toilet, so at night we’d park near some woods or field and had to go there. And because people noticed the truck in a residential street, we had to keep moving on.
‘You live day by day. You couldn’t plan anything – eating a meal or even charging my phone meant a visit to the local library.’ Living in constant stress affected Jon’s mental health and their relationship.
‘But the worst was the feeling of fear. It almost ruined me. Men would just let themselves into the back and start looking around.’ It happened so often that Jon worried about their safety and how he could protect them if someone turned nasty.
Jon grew up in a loving family locally, getting on well with his parents, but by 16 he was already staying out all night and drifting away. His mother died when he was 21 and within a few years he was often sleeping rough. But life had got back on track with Rachel, who had grown up in the care system. They had a family of rabbits which they dote on – and took them everywhere in the truck.
Help finally came from the homeless charity, SPEAR, whose outreach workers visited the truck. ‘I can’t tell you what it meant to get help – I was so fearful by that point. Two homeless men died nearby during our time in the truck.’
Surprisingly, difficulties arose because Jon and Rachel were a couple and because of their pets. The system just doesn’t allow to help two people who are living homeless together – and having pets made housing and resettlement more challenging.
‘But SPEAR changed everything. They put us up at the Penny Wade hostel in Kew and for the first time in many months I could relax. It was so good to talk to other people who had been homeless, too.’
Jon and Rachel are now getting the help they need to get their lives together. Having spent the last few months at the hostel and in temporary accommodation, Jon has just been offered a permanent residence – so this Christmas will be spent in a warm, safe home of his own.
SPEAR has rough sleeper outreach services in the Putney, Richmond and Kingston areas, helping the homeless to take steps back to life and independence. As a charity, they rely on voluntary income donations from the public, especially over the Christmas period and presents such as cosmetics, socks, underwear or chocolates are also gratefully received. To donate or report a rough sleeper, visit: spearlondon.org
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