On a soaking wet mattress at the back of a dumpster under a blanket CHESS staff found 70 year old Steven – they actually thought he was dead! He was soaked through and had only one carrier bag with a few items, no clothes and nothing else. He was taken into one of the CHESS properties firstly for 2 months and then moved into another property for few months before CHESS secured him a place in retirement housing in Chelmsford.
‘I actually chose to make myself homeless when I lost my job as a graphic designer, illustrator and cartoonist. I was living alone and thought how can I provide for my daughter to have the things I want for her such as go to the theatre, pay for school and other things? So I decided to give up my home. My daughter getting things was more important to me than that.’
So he took up residence outside CAB in Witham. Steven says ‘I actually enjoyed living rough – it sounds stupid by I was accepted by the rats and they became my friends. I would share any food I got with them and they knew it’. In all the 17 years he was homeless time he has never been scared – although he has had almost everything he owned stolen. ‘I did have a laptop and had actually written two books, but they are gone now. They were science fiction about the Scots and other planets!. If I’m not writing now I am drawing – I love wildlife and always wanted to be a wildlife artist.’
He got moved on from outside CAB but really wanted to be somewhere where there was some countryside so he could enjoy his love of wildlife and nature.
When Steven met CHESS he was at the point where he didn’t need to be homeless as his daughter was grown and has her own job and money now. ‘The worst thing about being homeless is the cold and wind. I’ve never had a problem with drugs or alcohol, I’ve had no health issues and haven’t actually seen a doctor in 20 years.’
He had been sleeping rough for around 15 years and thought that perhaps the council may help him to get a more permanent home. Steven is originally from Braintree so although he did get offered help in getting accommodation from the council he was told it would be a two year wait. ‘Being older I thought maybe it was time to get out of the cold, so I agreed to go to the CHESS property at Stock and I was given a room. I used to sit and talk about art with the other residents cos that’s my passion.’
CHESS then moved him into another property before securing him a place through the Genesys scheme in retirement housing in Chelmsford. ‘This place is perfect for me. There is a woodland area at the back where I can walk and draw the wildlife I see. The help I have received from CHESS has been overwhelming.’ Genesys also offered a grant for the first months’ rent.
Steven was not our normal resident. He is much older, with a different type of attitude to homelessness – he views things differently to the younger generation. ‘If I don’t like something I need to either change it or adapt. What is my 5-year plan – just to live that long to be honest. I just get on with life – I wasn’t ashamed to be homeless, I simply behaved like everyone else. I had nothing to hide from and just lived life. Only about 3 people actually new of my situation.’
Steven is a gifted artist and avid reader – he will read a newspaper each day from cover to cover. He still loves drawing and said he may possibly write another book if he can get a laptop. Here are some examples of his stunning work, which also display his amazing wit and sense of humour!
None of his family have ever known about him being homeless. His daughter now knows he is in retirement accommodation – and on the day of speaking to Steven he had been to the theatre with her the previous night to see one of the latest shows.
Since settling into his new accommodation he has now started art classes for the other residents and no longer travels into town to spend the day in Wetherspoons, but is making use of his amazing talents in the comfort of his new home.
Read More Stories
Read more from the 20 Years, 20 Stories campaign here https://chesshomeless.org/20stories20years/ and for all of the stories from HARP, Southend here www.harpsouthend.org.uk/20th-anniversary