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What it’s like being homeless for years - one Norwich man tells his story

PUBLISHED: 06:30 07 March 2020 | UPDATED: 14:38 09 March 2020

Luke Stone. Picture: Victoria Pertusa

Luke Stone. Picture: Victoria Pertusa

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Luke Stone has been circling in and out of homelessness for the best part of six years.

Bishopbridge House hostel in Norwich. Picture: ANTONY KELLYBishopbridge House hostel in Norwich. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

His life has been marred by hardship, but it has not stopped him on his quest to find a place to call home.

From the age of 14 he was under the care of children's services and at 17 had been living in supporting lodgings in Unthank Road, Norwich.

But he was placed at a YMCA hostel in the city not long before his 18th birthday and from there, he said, his problems began.

Mr Stone, now 24, has since been placed in various temporary accommodation, moving through hostels and bed and breakfasts in Norwich, Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds.

Luke Stone. Picture: Victoria PertusaLuke Stone. Picture: Victoria Pertusa

He said hostels could be a frightening environment to live in and on one occasion he was seriously assaulted.

"Some of these places are dodgy," he said. "There are crackheads and I've had death threats.

"I have been moved out of temporary accommodation for my own safety," he claimed.

At 17, he said he tried everything he could to get himself on the council housing register.

He worked at a call centre to earn money and secured a guarantor through children's services.

"I did everything in my power to get a council property," he said. "I was excited about having a home."

But Mr Stone admitted he had been evicted from the YMCA hostel after being accused of assault.

No further action was taken by police, Mr Stone claimed, but it scuppered his chances of getting a council property.

He confessed to being evicted from several hostels due to his behaviour over the years, including breaching licence agreements and being accused of petty crime offences.

He said he has also turned down offers to stay at a hostel due to his mental health.

He did, however, hold down a job and reconciled with his family for a short time in 2017 in an attempt to turn over a new leaf.

But the path to a better life was short-lived after a relationship breakdown with his family forced him into shared accommodation.

The Norwich Soup Run, run by the Salvation Army, helps to feed the homeless and needy every night of the year. Photo: Network NorwichThe Norwich Soup Run, run by the Salvation Army, helps to feed the homeless and needy every night of the year. Photo: Network Norwich

After losing his girlfriend and his job, he found himself back on the streets again.

"Finding private accommodation isn't easy," he said. "I didn't want to live with other people."

For Mr Stone, it felt like a never-ending cycle of repeatedly circling through the housing system with no foreseeable end.

It has taken a huge toll on his mental health, which he said could only be remedied by cannabis use.

"That's what happens when you're in a situation like this you turn to drugs," he said.

From January 2018, he lived in a garden outbuilding for six months after the homeowner took him and his pet dog, Ronnie, off the streets for some respite from the cold.

Mr Stone said he has been diagnosed with depression and anxiety, all of which the symptoms have worsened over time.

He sought help for his mental health in 2018, but after getting sectioned shortly after Christmas he was unable to keep Ronnie.

"I lost my dog, my best friend, that has destroyed me," he said. "I raised him from eight weeks-old. 
"Ronnie does have a good life now and he's cared for and loved."

After being deemed intentionally homeless by Norwich City Council in December, and therefore may not qualify for longer-term housing, Mr Stone has been sofa surfing and spending some nights in hostels, with his possessions in a backpack.

He said he has received valuable support from Pathways Norwich, a partnership of seven local organisations which helps rough sleepers.

A petition has also been launched online to help Mr Stone find a home, which has received 660 signatures.

"No person born in this country should be homeless," one supporter commented.

When he was asked how much he was responsible for his own suffering, Mr Stone said he believed he would have led a better life if he was given a home at 18.

He said he wants to work and pay taxes, pointing to his Gucci bag and Hugo Boss cap as proof that he had previously earned a living.

"I have always tried to get myself out of the circles and circumstances that have caused me problems," he said.

He claimed to have lived in 25 different places in the last six years, including sleeping rough on the streets. 
"Just having a home would help me keep out of trouble," he said. "I am lost in a hopeless system."

Getting help

A number of services in the city helps the homeless or those at risk of homelessness.

Pathways Norwich was launched in July 2018 to help rough sleepers get accommodation and support.

The initiative, made up of seven local organisations, is commissioned by Norwich City Council through its rough sleeping strategy.

A spokesman from YMCA Norfolk, one of the organisations involved in Pathways, said: "Homelessness is still too often the result for young people who have had traumatic childhoods.

"The impact of this trauma makes engagement with those who offer support all the more problematic and sometimes sees people going around the system.

"Prevention is always better than cure and we hope that stories like Luke's will see more investment in services that support families and children to thrive."

Norwich charity St Martins Housing Trust's Bishopbridge House hostel, in William Kett Close, provides emergency temporary accommodation for people who are homeless.

Shelter Norfolk, in Fishergate, offers free advice and help on housing and homelessness issues, with free access to the internet.

The Salvation Army's Norwich Soup Run, at Haymarket in the city centre, helps to feed the homeless and needy every night of the year.

City Reach, in Westwick Street, provides healthcare to vulnerable people, including the homeless.

In April, the city centre base will close and the service will be moved to GP practices around Norwich.

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