‘I ended up homeless with three children’ - mum’s incredible fightback from ‘rock bottom’
- Credit: Archant
As part of a series of articles about Home-Start in Suffolk, which supports parents facing challenging circumstances, ANDREW PAPWORTH spoke to some of those the charity has helped. Here, Sue - whose surname we’ve been asked not use - describes the support she received after she and her three children found themselves homeless.
When she and her children hit “rock bottom”, suddenly plunged into desperate homelessness, mother-of-three Sue said: “I didn’t think I’d cope with it all.”
The 49-year-old had a seven-month-old baby daughter and teenager studying for her GCSE exams when a marriage breakdown led the family of four to leave their Rendlesham home.
With nothing more than a Ford Fiesta and car-full of clothes to their name, they drove to Clacton - where, after spending two days with her parents, they were forced to live in a hotel for two weeks.
Hearing about their bitter plight, members of the community rallied round to donate items and even provide a roof over their heads while she looked for more permanent accommodation.
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Yet while being grateful for their “heartwarming” help, Sue felt trapped in the worst situation imaginable - living in a stranger’s house, with her and her baby cramped into one room and her 13 and 15-year-olds in another.
Lack of space forced Georgia, then sitting her GCSEs, to work and revise on the floor for her crucial exams - because she had no desk or space of her own.
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It was a situation Sue found “overwhelming”, saying: “I literally wanted to curl up and die.”
But eight years on, after help from Home-Start in Suffolk - a charity which supports parents and their children in a variety of challenging circumstances - Sue and her family have come almost full circle.
Not only does she now live comfortably with her three children in Felixstowe, but she even volunteers for Home-Start - helping families in need, just as she was supported eight years before.
Today, she looks back on the terrifying experience by saying it “makes you appreciate life more” - bu that there is always “light at the end of he tunnel”.
‘I felt like a failure’
The breakdown of Sue’s marriage in May 2012 left her with no option but to leave home.
As she drove away with her three children in a Ford Fiesta and a car-full of clothes, she had no idea where she would go or where she end up.
Put simply, there was no plan.
With no immediate family living nearby to support her, she instinctively drove to her parents in Clacton.
Only able to stay there for two nights, her family then lived out of a hotel in the Essex seaside resort for two weeks.
The savings Sue had soon began to disappear on food, with the family forced to eat out every night and travel to Woodbridge every day, Georgia and Jordan could continue school at Farlingaye High.
Once people discovered there was a family with two teenagers and a seven-month-old baby without a home, Sue said: “Everyone was trying to rally round and help.”
She described how numerous agencies, from counsellors to children’s centres, all became involved in her situation to try and find a solution.
“It was quite overwhelming,” she said. “There were so many people involved.”
With the only hostel space available being in Birmingham, friends found a house where Sue could stay while she looked for somewhere more permanent to live.
She said the way people rallied round to help and the support they offered was “heart-warming”, but it was hardly an ideal situation.
While she and her baby slept in one room, Georgia and Jordan shared another for three weeks.
With no desk, Georgia had little alternative but to lay her schoolwork out onto the floor while revising for her all-important GCSEs.
“It was so overpowering,” she said.
“I was completely numb. I completely shut down.
“I literally wanted to curl up and die. I didn’t think I could cope with it all - there was so much going on.
“It was scary, really scary. It’s not your plan of life. You feel vulnerable because you don’t know what’s going to happen.
“I just remember feeling so insecure in my life. There was no control about anything.
Of Georgia, she said: “I don’t know how she got through her exams.”
‘Some days I didn’t want to get out of the house’
After several weeks, Sue finally found more comfortable permanent accommodation in a house in Felixstowe.
She felt that would be the moment she could finally start to get her life back on track.
Yet the sheer trauma of everything she had been through took its toll and Sue continued to feel long-term depression and anxiety.
“Some days, I did not want to get out of the house,” she said.
At this point, Sue was referred to Home-Start but admits that, to begin with, she was sceptical about the support they could offer.
There had been so many agencies and organisations involved in her situation at this point that Sue was unsure Home-Start could make a difference.
But she found the weekly visits from a Home-Start volunteer were “just amazing” and became like a form of counselling.
“She was just so upbeat and I felt I could talk to her,” Sue said of her Home-Start visitor.
“Home-Start encouraged me to get up and go out, even if it was just to walk into town, and try and still do jobs around the house.
“It gave me more confidence because I was actually going out and doing things.
“I started to open up more, talk to people and trust people. I felt more brave.”
Sue said she was particularly moved by how the volunteer helped her with caring for her baby - even making the youngster a cake for her first birthday.
The result was a complete transformation in Sue’s life where she not only works full-time, but volunteers for Home-Start - helping people in in challenging situations, as she once was.
She has supported three families over the past two years and even delivered training to other volunteers.
“It’s such an amazing charity. I wanted to give something back,” she said.
“I value so much what they do. I had so much help that I wanted to help others.”
Of the people she supports, she said: “Because of my experience, I can imagine what they’re feeling with me coming into their house and space.
“I’m not judgemental but I feel I can help them.”
‘There’s light at the end of the tunnel’
Sue said that the experience of being homeless “did change me”.
She said: “I was quite a material sort of person before. I don’t really want for anything now.
“I’m not bothered by anything. Because I’ve been at rock bottom, I know I can’t get more rock bottom than that.
“It makes you appreciate life a lot more. There’s light at the end of the tunnel.”
About Home-Start in Suffolk
Home-Start in Suffolk aids parents struggling with a range of challenges, so children enjoy the best start in life.
It helped 412 families between April 2018 and April 2019, a rise of 90 on the previous year.
A key part of its service are its home visitors, who visit families to provide invaluable support and a listening ear, although that is currently being adapted because of the coronavirus crisis.
It believes supporting families at the very start of a child’s life is the “best opportunity to break the cycle of adversity”.
Its patrons include author Anthony Horowitz, who has a home in Suffolk, and Maple Farm Kelsale owner Miranda Kendall.