Woman Who Experienced Homelessness At 21 Spent Every Day In ‘Fight-Or-Flight’ Mode
Your early twenties are often branded as being the ‘best time of your life’, but author Hannah Green found the time was, in a word, ‘chaotic’.
Hannah is now 24 years old and living in a flat in Yorkshire, but her current situation is preceded by a total of 403 days of homelessness, during which time she found shelter at a hostel, a supported lodgings placement, various sofas and other temporary accommodation.
At the end of 2018, Hannah was suffering from severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) stemming from a sexual assault at university and childhood sexual abuse. She found herself with ‘nowhere to live, no job, and no money to fall back on.’
Hannah approached the local council for help and they directed her to Nightstop, which provides emergency accommodation for under 25s. She was forced to live each day as it came, explaining: ‘When you’re expecting to stay in the same place all weekend and then you’re told suddenly you have to leave, there is literally nothing you can do about it.’
Speaking to UNILAD, Hannah, who now works as a journalist and Lived Experiences Specialist at the Centre for Homelessness Impact, said that experiencing homelessness ‘changes how you view the world.’
She was often surrounded by other young people who had been through experiences similar to her own, and it made her realise that ‘while everyone is responsible for their own behaviour, they are not responsible for many of the often traumatic things they have been through, which have a direct effect on their attitudes, thoughts and actions.’
As she lived without a permanent home for weeks on end, Hannah came to realise there is a ‘real lack of trauma-informed and gender-informed services for people who are experiencing homelessness.’
Services may be focused on finding accommodation for those with no home, but in doing so they may sometimes fail to recognise those people may have been through situations that could impact the way they want to live.
Hannah used the example of women who have experienced male violence, stressing that these survivors ‘should not be forced to choose between having to sleep on the streets and having to stay in a place with other males where, ultimately, they feel unsafe.’
These are issues that undoubtedly should be taken into account, though Hannah noted that having to deal with homelessness and everything that came with it made her ‘far more resilient’.
[My experiences] enabled me to look at tough situations as things I can get through rather than just things I have to accept. And they’ve taught me that to make it through, you have to truly believe you can find a solution…
You come to realise that kicking off or trying to fight it will only make things worse for you. The only way to deal with it is to focus on the few things you can control; your attitude, your mindset, and getting through one hour at a time.
You have to learn to accept the things you can’t control, including the unpleasant feelings and emotions that undoubtedly come with any experience of homelessness. You get to a point where you realise you can’t avoid them; you just have to let them pass.
One situation Hannah found herself particularly prepared for thanks to her experiences was the nationwide lockdown that came after the coronavirus outbreak last year.
Being suddenly forced to change our routine and daily life proved a challenge for everyone, but with rules and restrictions in place it was exactly the kind of situation Hannah was familiar with – one we couldn’t control. After getting used to living life day by day, Hannah found she was used to ‘dealing with uncertainty and not knowing how long it will last.’
She explained: ‘I’ve learnt to expect the unexpected and deal with whatever is thrown at me.’
As well as giving her new ways of handling tough situations, Hannah’s experience of homelessness taught her to ‘appreciate all of the little things,’ and while there ‘are a lot of bad people in the world,’ there are also ‘a lot of amazing people with really pure intentions.’
Many people may associate homelessness solely with people who sleep on the streets, but as Hannah makes clear, that is not always the case. She received more support because she was under 25, but she noted that her life was still ‘chaotic’, and that ‘staying in a hostel with 18 other young people who have experienced similar things to you [is] a very tough environment to be in.’
Discussing the ‘drugs, alcohol, antisocial behaviour [and] constant parties,’ Hannah noted, ‘You can never judge the choices someone makes when you don’t know what options they had to begin with.’
However, while she acknowledged that everyone she was surrounded by was ‘dealing with a tough situation the only ways they know how,’ she stressed it ‘doesn’t make it any easier when you’re living it.’
The 24-year-old explained: ‘You have to learn to live with the constant noise, arguments and fighting and the fear that brings, because what other option do you have? You basically spend every day in fight-or-flight.’
In April 2019, Hannah started a surf therapy course that ‘both changed and saved’ her life. While still living in temporary accommodation, she started volunteering with The Wave Project, a surf therapy clinic that works with young people to improve their emotional and physical wellbeing.
Volunteering allowed Hannah to ‘give something back’, and through the work she met ‘so many incredible people’, some of whom have become her best friends. Hannah made more lifelong friends during the general election campaign in December 2019, and they supported her with finding a flat, securing a guarantor and helping her move in to her permanent home.
Reflecting on her experience with homelessness, the 24-year-old said she is ‘extremely grateful’ she is no longer in that situation and that she ‘survived’.
She also feels ‘sad’ when thinking about the time she spent without a secure home, as she feels she ‘shouldn’t have had to go through all of that to get to where I am,’ adding: ‘I didn’t realise until I was in my own flat how badly I had been let down by different services.’
As soon as she moved into her flat, Hannah started working as a freelance journalist and sharing her story through articles and public speaking engagements. This led to her job at the Centre for Homelessness Impact; an independent organisation that works to bring about a sustainable end to homelessness.
During the first national lockdown, Hannah also started working on a book, titled My Journey Home, which details her experiences with homelessness and PTSD, for which she is currently receiving help. With the project now complete, it is available to pre-order and is set to be published on Thursday, April 8.
Hannah is one of thousands of young people who have experienced homelessness, with charity Centrepoint reporting that 121,000 young people asked for help with homelessness last year for reasons including violence, abuse, family breakdown and problems with mental health.
As Hannah makes clear, many of those who find themselves without a home have been through trauma beyond their control, and reliable support is necessary to help those experiencing homelessness see that they are not alone, that they can get through the tough situations and, like Hannah, ‘truly believe’ there is a solution.
If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article and wish to seek help regarding homelessness you can contact Centrepoint for free on 0808 800 0661 Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm.
If you’re experiencing distressing thoughts and feelings, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is there to support you. They’re open from 5pm–midnight, 365 days a year. Their national number is 0800 58 58 58 and they also have a webchat service if you’re not comfortable talking on the phone.
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