Collage by Exposure using a variety of images from Pixabay by Pezeibear (teddy bear), Hans (sleeping bag), Antranias (girl on swings) and pasja1000 (rucksack)
Kerrie Portman recounts her lonely and harrowing experiences, shared by many leaving care
Home for Good and Step by Step reported 1 in 4 Care Leavers
become homeless at 18
An estimated 17% of care leavers entitled to aftercare
make a homelessness application
25% of England’s homeless population have been in care
I’ve been working on a report on the epidemic of homelessness amongst Care Leavers in the UK for a charity recently. I pitched the project idea after I’d been homeless the first time that year and before the second time. I like working on it. I liked the control that a research project brought me and the knowledge that I’m not as alone as how I felt that first time I was left homeless.
It appeared that local social services were gaslighting me, that it was my fault, when a quick search proved it was the popular discourse amongst authority groups that it was their failing, not mine. These documents include the 2017 All-Party Parliamentary Group’s APPG for Ending Homelessness report, outlining several legal safeguarding frameworks that meant this should never have happened to me. My local authority knew perfectly well; they just never seemed to care.
Approximately 35,000 children, or 95 children a day,
were taken into the care system in the UK in 2021
In 2020, there was a 1% increase of children in the Care System,
totalling 80,850, an all-time high, according to Home for Good
I’ve always liked knowledge. I like to understand. It makes me feel safer, especially being autistic and experiencing childhood trauma. The research report gave me something to focus on whilst homeless, which I needed. Something that I wasn’t prepared for is the amount of time being homeless can provide, especially in winter when I need to stay inside and try to find free spaces. My best friends quickly became the community museum and library, both free with heating, Wi-Fi and bathrooms.
When I became homeless, I asked for help from everyone I could think of; social services, care leaver charities, homelessness charities, my GP, the hospital, college, advocates… and nobody helped.
I began to feel that just a conversation and someone to talk to, someone who I felt cared, could save my life
Some ignored me, some abused me even more and some were kind, but ultimately nobody helped. And that loneliness, that bleak understanding that not only could bad things happen but, when they did, I was alone, that was where the true hopelessness set in for me. I began to feel that just a conversation and someone to talk to, someone who I felt cared, could save my life. When reaching out to people for help, I began expressing this, but that, of course, was also ignored.
There was a lot of mental and physical trauma. Being homeless, not having consistent access to food, becoming malnourished, fainting from hunger, developing chest pains and a weak heart, fluctuating weight and seeing my skin change colour and my ribs resembling a zebra, being out in the cold in minus degree weather… It’s a physical trauma too.
In 2019 it was estimated 778 people died of homelessness in England and Wales, according to the Office for National Statistics
I’ve really enjoyed working on the homelessness report, both in the sense that it helps me, but also in the sense that I hope once it’s published it will help others.
One troubling aspect is that there are multiple laws and safeguarding procedures in place to prevent Care Leavers from becoming homeless, especially those who are under the age of 25 and are disabled.
The protection is there, in theory, so where is it? I think some social services prey on Care Leavers because we’re vulnerable and often have less support systems and resources to help us advocate for our needs and entitlements.
Without that, we’re at risk of people in positions of power taking advantage of that, which is what I think these social services are doing when they leave Care Leavers like myself to fend for ourselves on the streets feeling utterly alone. And that’s not good enough of anyone but especially not of people paid to care and be better.
That is not good enough.
Photo by Kerrie when she was homeless: “The framing of the dark shrubs represent how I felt like I was peaking out from the darkness at something beautiful but without belonging or being able to access it and the expanse of the sky represents a big vastness.”