In most homeless and vulnerable cases, people who find themselves at risk of homelessness, or actually homeless are in that situation due to a number of issues colliding and creating a situation which they need assistance to move on from. Lora and her sister, Kirsty’s story show just how easy it can be to fall through the gaps of our system and find yourself on the streets.

A few years back, they sold everything they owned to follow a dream for a new life in Portugal. Lora spoke Portuguese and had dreams of starting over somewhere warm. After a few months of working to start over, the dream soured and the money they had, had run dry. With nowhere else to turn to they used the last of their savings to come home.

They arrived at Birmingham International airport in early December with just the clothes they had on and a few summer outfits in their hand luggage with no way to get back to North Devon. A friend came to pick them up and drove them to Barnstaple but couldn’t put them up for longer than one night. ‘It’s fair enough,’ Lora said ‘not everyone can help you when you need it, and at least he was honest with us.’

The next day she and her sister headed to the DSS (now the DWP) to see what help they could get to climb back on their feet and keep from homelessness. After a lengthy interview, the answer was nothing. Neither Lora nor her sister was eligible for assistance. Being unable to show ‘habitual residence in the UK for a minimum of 3 months prior to making a claim’ the then DSS turned them away (according to policy), only being able to provide details of local organisations who may have been able to help.

That night Lora and her sister found shelter in a boat wreck behind Barnstaple Leisure Centre, with no money for food, dressed in summer clothes in the dead of winter and no idea of when or how they might get out of the situation they found themselves in; it’s a night that Lora will long remember.

With nowhere else to turn to, they found themselves shunted to local charities, one of which was Freedom. After a few days of living in the abandoned boat, and a couple of nights B&B, it is Freedom that Lora remembers providing the on-going assistance she needed to gain her life back.

‘Freedom helped us in so many things – staying warm, they gave us each a coat, feeding us, someone to speak to – just making us feel like a human being and not something non-human who did all this to themselves. Freedom didn’t judge, they had a lot to do with helping us not be homeless and getting to a point where we were able to do what needed to be done about our situation. They let us know what our options were, listened, gave advice (which we took) and helped put things in a logical order for building our lives back up.’

From the B&B the pair then moved into one room in a friend’s house with the understanding that they would start paying rent as soon as they could. With this in mind, they hit the pavements the day after moving in, intending to find a job before they came home again – and find jobs they did.

However, they carried on needing Freedom’s help as they continued climbing out of their situation and back to a brighter future. For about 4 -5 months while they worked at low-paid jobs and saved for their own place, the sisters continued visiting Freedom for meals, support for daily issues and somewhere to go to escape the worry of their situation. Kirsty secured a loan and bought herself a snack van to earn additional income from and shortly after this they purchased a small caravan which they moved to.

‘There wasn’t any one thing that Freedom did that helped most – all of the help combined, in one place, is what made the difference to us back then. I am just so grateful that they exist for people, but I never want to be back there again! I mean that in the nicest way of course!’ Lora finishes with a smile.

Since then she has started a family and opened her own pasty making business – L J’s Pantry. ‘I had kind of put that time of my life out of my mind, and then last year I was reading something about homelessness and it brought it all back to me. If we hadn’t have had the Freedom Centre, I don’t know what would have become of us, I genuinely don’t know. So I decided it was time to give something back, even though I’m not Bill Gates, I can finally give something back and it feels right to do that. Freedom think with their hearts, not with their heads, and although I think it is good to struggle sometimes as it builds your resilience and gratitude, no-one deserves to be homeless.’

If you would like to help us help others in a similar situation to that of Lora and Kirsty, you can do so here.