John* is 29. He has 5 A Levels, a degree and a Masters in Chemical Engineering. He has never experienced alcohol or drug dependency. He is ambitious, focused and positive.
In 2023, John spent three months living on the streets in Cambridge.
John came to Cambridge in February 2023, making the trip to the city to attempt to reconnect with his father who was in rapidly failing health. A father who had been violent and abusive to his children and former wife and who had been absent in John’s life since he was 6 years old.
When John arrived in Cambridge, he found a city where he felt at home – a place full of aspiration and opportunities within his chosen professional field. He quickly found work and began a new relationship, soon after moving in with his new girlfriend.
Unfortunately, the relationship didn’t last and John moved into hotel accommodation as a temporary solution while he looked for a room to rent in a shared house.
He hadn’t anticipated how difficult it would be to find affordable accommodation in Cambridge. Unable to view properties until he had finished work, he was unable to beat the ‘competition’ for a room and, as days turned into weeks, his savings ran out.
Realising that he needed to retain enough money for a deposit and first month’s rent, John was faced with the harsh reality of having to leave his hotel room and sleep rough whilst continuing his search. With all his belongings temporarily stored with his new employer, John took a backpack, a large hold-all of clothing and his laptop and his journey into homelessness began.
Living on the streets, John was unable to sleep for nights on end.
“I took to turning up at work at 6am before everyone arrived and then staying until 6pm, long after everyone else had gone home. No-one questioned this – colleagues just thought I was working hard. I’d stay as late as possible and then I’d leave and just walk around throughout the night and then go back to work in the morning. I didn’t feel I could tell anyone.”
At this point, John wasn’t aware of the support available to him but did contact the council. He was told that he would be eligible for a 0% deposit loan under the Rent Deposit Scheme. Unfortunately though, the lack of sleep and hardship of rough sleeping began to impact upon his job. Too embarrassed to explain what he was going through, he made mistakes at work and ultimately, was dismissed.
This change in circumstances meant that John was no longer eligible for the Rent Deposit Scheme. With no income he couldn’t afford a place to live. With no place to live, he couldn’t find new employment. He was trapped in a vicious cycle with no obvious way out. John began to feel that his situation was hopeless.
“Every time I thought I’d hit rock bottom, the situation would get a little bit worse and I’d sink a bit lower. Day to day, the worst time of all was 5pm. As soon as 5pm arrived, you’d have to accept that there would be no support for the next 18 hours. No hope of receiving any good news, having anyone to help me. 7am would arrive and I’d get a rush of adrenalin and hope that the day would bring something good. Then, at 4pm, the growing sense of dread would creep in.”
John’s fortunes took a turn for the better when he was told about Wintercomfort by an advisor at the Job Centre. With the team’s support he managed to find a place in a shared house and soon after, to find new employment.
John is a person of high intelligence and potential. He is articulate and confident. Nevertheless, he found himself in a situation that even with these resources, felt insurmountable.
Wintercomfort was able to provide the emotional and practical support that he needed at a time when he felt hopeless and alone. Despite the huge range of advisory services that Wintercomfort can offer, sometimes, it’s the simple act of human kindness and compassion which makes the difference.
John is now happily living in a shared house and enjoying his new job. He still bears the emotional scars of his period of homelessness but feels that his experiences have made him a more empathetic person.
“I used to be someone who would walk past someone on the street and look the other way – feeling helpless when faced with someone in need. I’m different now. I know that this could happen to anyone and that everyone who faces homelessness is simply a person who has fallen on hard times.”
That’s what is so different about Wintercomfort. There is such a human element here. Every interaction is professional but really human. Even when there are difficult situations here, everyone is dealt with such care and respect. I wouldn’t be where I am today without their support.”
In December ’23 John shared his story with Cambridge 105, the recording is available to listen to here