As volunteers across Cheshire take part in the Government’s homelessness count, REBECCA EDWARDS talks to a former rough sleeper about how her life turned around when she became a mum
Life has drastically changed for 31-year-old Kerry in the last 18 months.
When The Chronicle first featured her story at the beginning of 2007, she had just moved into the Milestones hostel on Egerton Street, Chester after four years trapped in a city housing void that left her on the streets.
I interviewed her in a stuffy basement kitchen and she told me how she slept on the Rows until she was pistol-whipped by a drunk, then moved to a railway arch near the racecourse.
In February, she introduced me proudly to her four-month-old son and gave me a tour of her small but cosy housing trust flat in Newton.
“They offered me two flats but I chose this one because it has got a little garden, so I’ve got to find a lawnmower soon,” she said.
She adds with a smile: “I never thought I’d be talking about getting a lawnmower.”
Kerry grew up in Newtown and went to Kingsway High School where she got Bs and Cs in her GCSEs and a GNVQ.
She fell into homelessness after taking parental responsibility for her 10-year-old brother when she was 24.
Unable to cope, she turned to drink, her brother was taken into care and she was evicted.
Currently, Chester has no emergency beds for women found rough sleeping so Kerry’s then-boyfriend was given a hostel place, but she was turned away.
Charity workers in Chester express immense frustration that they can provide good facilities for men but often the best they can do for a woman is give her a sleeping bag and point her toward the Rows.
Capital funding has now been secured for a six-bed women’s hostel in Blacon but funding for services and staff must still be found and the hostel is unlikely to open before next April.
When I tell Kerry about the planned hostel, she says: “I’m pleased they are finally doing something but it has taken too long. Maybe if I had been given a chance to get off the streets earlier I wouldn’t have stayed there so long.”
Kerry talks almost fondly about her time on the streets, but admits that she got too accustomed to the way of life.
She said: “I suppose I did choose to stay after a while. You get to know people, I had just lost my brother and I was lonely.
“The time flew and I realised I would end up dead or in jail. You get to a certain point and realise you have to get out.”
She was “overjoyed” to find out she was pregnant last March because doctors said her drinking habit might have stopped her conceiving.
She moved into accommodation for homeless families during her pregnancy and was given her flat in December when her baby was one month old.
Workers from Chester Aid to the Homeless gave her nappies and furniture and still visit her regularly.
She says: “When you are on the streets you feel invisible,
I feel normal again now.
“When you are homeless you don’t pay attention to the normal people in the street, it is like they are in your front room, you feel like the streets belong to you.
“Sitting at the bus stop last night looking at the people around me, I could pick out the homeless people a mile off. I realised that is how they must have looked at me.
“My old neighbours from Newtown and my friends from school will speak to me again now. You don’t realise how many people don’t speak to you when you are homeless.
“A woman yesterday put £5 in my baby’s hand, so I have put that in his trust fund for his future.”
She adds: “I still go to Aqua House for rehab and they were worried I might go back to drinking but I haven’t even thought about it – I don’t have time. My health visitor couldn’t believe I had been on the streets.
“There are some girls on the streets who get pregnant and carry on taking drugs. I can’t stand that – why would you do that to your baby?”
Kerry hopes to work in a hostel when her son is older, but for now wants to make the most of being with him.
She adds: “I won’t tell him anything about being on the streets, I don’t want him to know about what happened there.
“My boyfriend wants him to be a footballer but I won’t pressurise him, I just want him to know right from wrong and be happy.”