"Although I have told my story many a time, each time is more difficult than the last. That is because I appreciate that this story could have been very different. Although my story has “a happy ending”, its imperative that we remember that many stories don’t. Homelessness is one of the worst things a person can endure. Experiencing homelessness as a 16 year old female is an experience which has irreversibly changed my life.
My name is Natalie and I lived at a St Basils supported accommodation scheme from August 2007 until July 2010. I was born in the affluent town of Sutton Coldfield, and on the surface I suppose one could assume I came from a progressive Afro-Caribbean family. The truth was my mother worked 2 jobs whilst at University. My father had suffered for many years from bi-polar disorder, consequently he spent many months of the year in various psychiatric wards.
After a messy divorce and a serious bi-polar episode my father committed suicide. I was 10 years old. Shortly after that my mother moved our family to the Caribbean. For several personal reasons I moved back to the UK by myself when I was 16. Having little money and nowhere to live, I was homeless.
I came across St. Basils after searching the internet for shelters for homeless teenaged girls. After gaining accommodation with St Basils, I immediately enrolled on various A’ Level courses. I used my studies as a way to distract myself from my personal problems. On reflection I can appreciate living at St Basils was probably the most stability I had in my life since I was a small child.
For the first time since I could remember people asked me “Are you okay?” “How does that make you feel?” “Do you want to talk about it?” These questions are so simple, and yet so powerful. Too often people ask these questions as part of the everyday monotony of life, not truly eliciting a real answer. However, my support workers were really interested.
I was 3 years old the first time I told my mother I wanted to be a lawyer. I’m not really sure how I knew what a lawyer was, but I just knew that this is what I wanted to do. I have always excelled academically, I suppose academia has always been a sanctuary for me. Despite the turmoil ensuing in my personal life: school, college, university have all been places where I felt “normal”.
Living at St Basils allowed me to focus on my academic aspirations whilst sensitively dealing with my personal problems. I was always supported and encouraged by staff, and although the service isn’t trying to provide a substitute family for residents, I felt like some of the support workers were like the guardians I was lacking.
After achieving two A’s and two B’s at A’ Level, I left Birmingham in 2010 en route to Leeds to read Law at the University of Leeds.
On 11th September 2014 I received an upper second class (2:1) degree in Law (3 marks shy of a first class, as you can imagine I was not best pleased!) Whilst living at St Basils many people would tell me how strong and ambitious I was. I really didn’t understand what they were speaking about. The truth was because of the things I went through I felt ostracised from my peer group and found it difficult to make friends. Most nights I would cry myself to sleep wondering if anybody truly cared about me.
I remember reading a quote on the wall of the office everyday: “The people who get on in this world are those people who look for the circumstances they want, and if they can’t find them, they create them”.
I didn’t set out to be an example of somebody who turned a negative situation into a positive one. Most days I struggled and sometimes still do, just to get through the day. I cannot express how fortunate I am. I am fortunate for finding St. Basils. Without the support St Basils staff I doubt I would have gotten where I am today. Not because I was not ambitious enough, but because ambition alone is not enough. I needed to feel safe and cared for, and that is what St. Basils provided for me. In the absence of a stable environment and a sense that somebody cares for you, no person can truly live, at best all that person can do is survive.
So what’s the next step? I have recently received a scholarship from the University of Leeds. Hence, I am currently pursuing a Masters in International Banking and Finance Law. Without a shadow of a doubt I would not be here without St. Basils. I would like to say to staff - thank you so much for seeing me at a time when no one else did.
Whilst this story has a “happy ending”, there are so many that do not. Hence, I wish to dedicate this piece to the multitude of young people who are experiencing homelessness in the UK, who feel that no one see’s them and no one cares. I see you, and I care."