Finding a home…
Crystal first came to Edinburgh following a severe dispute with her family which left her with no alternative other than leaving the family home. She had just turned 20 and had never lived away from home before. Crystal says; ‘Having ventured into the city centre, it frightened the life out of me. It was so strange, coming from such a small town’. She had some savings from her previous job and tried to find accommodation so that she could make a fresh start. However, realising that her savings wouldn’t be enough, she approached the council for help finding affordable accommodation.
Crystal had no local connection to the city, there was no obligation on the part of the Council to provide her with accommodation. At this stage, with no support network and not knowing where to go for advice, Crystal purchased a very cheap tent with the last of her dwindling funds and took to the Pentland hills. Reflecting on the experience, Crystal describes it as ‘terrifying’. She goes on to explain that ‘by about midnight, I was convinced that if I didn’t phone the police to try and help me down from there, I would have frozen to death’. Following her rescue by the police, she was referred to us and was given a place in a city centre hostel. Crystal’s mental health was in an extremely fragile state and this greatly impacted her ability to cope with the day to day pressures of life.
As soon as a space became available, Crystal moved into a room in one of our shared flats with Housing Support. Crystal lived in the shared flat for nearly two years and this was a period of ups and downs, growth and development. With a more secure accommodation base, Crystal was able to start addressing some of the issues in her life which were causing difficulties in her mental health. At the time she found it extremely difficult to reveal her vulnerabilities and ask for help due to her independent nature and her determination. Eventually however, Crystal was encouraged to access support around her mental health with the support of the Rock Trust.
Things began to improve steadily with Crystal actively seeking employment, taking part in volunteering, and becoming more sociable and generally enjoying life a bit more. Crystal found employment within the retail sector and secured her own tenancy. Although this was an exciting time, Crystal describes the transition as stressful; ‘When I first got the keys to the flat, I had absolutely nothing, the heating wasn’t working and neither was the hot water’. Crystal’s Rock Trust support worker was able to secure funds and white goods from a variety of sources in order to make the house more like a home, and purchase essential items like a bed.
Moving on from homelessness…
Following an extremely busy festive period for Crystal, regularly working overtime hours of up to 50 hours per week and dealing with the teething problems of a new tenancy, things slowed down at work and Crystal’s hours were reduced to 16 hours per week. This made things extremely difficult financially. Earning the minimum wage, Crystal is responsible for a portion of her rent and council tax which eats into over a third of her take home pay. In addition, she needs to purchase a bus pass which is the most economical way for her to make the 4 bus round journey commute to and from work. After these big expenses are taken care of, Crystal needs to put money into gas and electric meters and put some credit on her mobile phone in order to be able to stay in contact with her regular support providers. Lastly, Crystal needs to spend the remaining £18-£20 per week on food and other necessities.
It’s fair to say that Crystal has become, in a sense, the victim of her own success. By refusing to take what some may see as the easy option and cease work following the reduction of her hours, she has been forced to live on the bread line and struggle by living a hand – to – mouth existence.
Days off were spent getting out of bed early in order to use the washing machines provided by the Rock Trust’s crisis service to launder her work uniforms. To this end, her Rock Trust housing support worker was able to identify a very real need for financial assistance to purchase a washing machine and could see clearly the positive impact that this basic household item would have on the quality of Crystal’s life.
Washing machine now in situ, Crystal describes the impact on her life; ‘Now I don’t have to worry about whether or not the clean clothes I have are going to last me until the next time I’m able to go back down to the Rock Trust to do washing. It’s definitely had a massive impact and I don’t think my hands could take any more blisters from hand washing!’.
Crystal has moved on a lot in other ways too. Following her initial engagement with mental health services around her acute depression and anxieties in the early days of her homeless experience, she is engaging with specialist support to look more closely and in-depth at the issues surrounding her childhood which have an impact on her adult wellbeing.
Whilst Crystal’s journey, strength, determination and willingness to succeed in the face of adversity may serve as an inspiration for many, the stark facts of her journey remain; trying to hold down a tenancy and meet all associated costs whilst earning the minimum wage and with access to little financial backing from the government (it is worth noting at this stage that Crystal is not entitled to Working Tax Credit, which she would most definitely qualify for based on her earnings, until she turns 25) is no mean feat!
Crystal has many hopes and aspirations for her future and recognises work as an important building block in this. She says of her feelings regarding what lies ahead; ‘I feel a lot more optimistic about where I want to be and how I’m going to get there’.