A day in The Space… reflections…
He is a family man who looks after both his immediate family and his grandchildren. He has trodden the streets many times looking for work and has been exploited by unscrupulous employers – one paid him £60 for 2 weeks fulltime work.
He has been in to talk on a number of occasions and we have helped him by providing clothing and shoes for him and his family. He is a provider – this is a role he takes very seriously – and being out of work takes a large toll on his mood – he can be very despondent and low.
Recently he said that their money all goes on food but that things were getting very tight so I explained to him about using the service of a local foodbank. His face paled and he dropped his head and every ounce of dignity seemed to drain from this very able provider. He normally doesn’t stay long but at his last visit he stayed to chat. He told me he has been off alcohol for 3 months. He continues to get support and in the past month he has brought his wife, grandson and his son to meet us as well as bringing in 2 of his cousins for support.
She is a teenager with a baby and a husband and she is very beautiful. She is Romanian Roma. She came to The Space to ask for food and we arranged this for her. She has now come many, many times and shares a great deal about her life, her hardships and her hopes for her child. Only rarely does she now ask for practical help such as food … most of her visits now are so she can be heard… so that she can talk about the life she endured in Romania.
We are concerned about them – her and her baby. We have grown to know them well and she carries many of her family’s burdens but is also very immature on some levels. She has been very low and the baby is never in good health. Recently she came in to The Space very excited – she wanted to show us her baby and how beautiful she looked. We were horrified. She had put a full face of makeup on the baby’s face, including eyeliner and lipstick. The baby was made up like a doll and it reminded us of something a young child would do when playing with dolls. But she is an adult and a mother. It was unsettling that she now felt that her one year old baby looked beautiful. There’s a great deal to be done…It’s an immense privilege to sit with her.
A woman and her husband have taken The Space to their hearts and are regular visitors to share a cup of coffee and conversation. She has been in so many times … but this time she cried. She does not ask for help and even when it has been offered she has said that she would manage. This time she held out her hand.
We were able to provide food, to be there with her and to comfort her but we cannot solve the problem of the money owed to the landlord and none of us know where this will lead. They are trapped in a web of poverty – they live in constant fear of being made homeless by their landlord as their only source of income comes from busking but neither can they return to Romania because their health is so poor and at least here they have access to a doctor and medicine.
We gathered as women enjoying a coffee and chat about our children …
‘How come you look younger than your age and we all look older… what do you use’? she quizzed, searching my face for signs of age.
I laughed at the notion that I had discovered some elixir to prevent ageing… for whatever is on special offer is what you’ll find in my beauty box.
‘You must’ve had a good life’ she said … does your husband beat you’? she asked.
‘No… never’, I replied
‘NEVER, she cried… but he slap you,’ she said as though it were a fact of life.
‘No…never’, I replied
She translated for the others… they listened in disbelief shaking their heads at the very thought!
She was first married at the age of 15years and left her husband after one year because of the beatings she was taking. Her second marriage did not fare any better. She is nineteen years and on her third marriage.
Violence is a common feature of their lives.
They are disliked even amongst their own kind; the lowest of the low. Bitterness and anger consume them. Their hardships never leave; never let go, a faithful companion indeed.
She has borne him 9 children and now he has left… left her alone. Her burden is unimaginable, her poverty extreme, her brokenness masked by an aggressive exterior. There is no softness left in her, she has to fight every day to survive and then there is her son; David. Between them they fill the air with a foul stench- they haven’t washed, their clothes are dirty and at 14 years old he is like a small child and incontinent.
They came in for their usual trip for food and he pointed out his sore feet – dirty, sodden and cramped into shoes too small and saturated by the rain.
Early the next morning shoes and socks were purchased for them to collect at their next visit. They appeared later that same day but when they came in I gathered some towels and wipes and took them both into the private room. I removed his old shoes and socks and carefully placed his feet on a towel, cleaned them, dried them and put on his new footwear.
She watched me, almost disbelieving her eyes and then she wept… and wept… her thanks immense.
She is from the north of Scotland and appears mentally frail. Initially she spoke with me outside on the pavement and at this time her speech was unclear and it was difficult to understand what she was saying. At the next visit she stood in the porch and had a brief conversation and on the third occasion she ventured in and sat down and had tea and a biscuit.
She is now a weekly visitor and comes along so that “she can speak with the woman and get some help”. Her speech is clearer. We try to encourage her and support her in whatever project she is working on… the gas meter… the washing machine… or a neighbour. Whatever it is we are helpful and delighted to see a lovely person emerging.
We repeatedly hear from people who use The Space that they find it ‘…warm, peaceful, welcoming, inviting… somewhere they like to come’.
He is an artist… a very talented and very clever man. He doesn’t call any country home but rather travels across Europe sleeping where he can. He is a drifter. He attended art school in Rome and Florence and is warm, friendly and very gentle. He also has significant mental ill-health and is no stranger to psychiatric units. He is in some trouble with the police and we have been liaising with the Fiscal Office on his behalf and we have also enabled him to see a doctor and a psychiatrist.
As a drifter he is ‘sans papier’, and as such doesn’t exist as far as statutory services are concerned. Thus, trying to get a doctor to see him was a monumental task. When we finally managed to secure an appointment he was not allowed to wait in the waiting room but we were told he must wait outside… how awful … and what a terrible message this sends to someone. We were fortunate in that it was a dry day. He has been to visit The Space on a number of occasions… he said he can trust us and that he knows we won’t exploit him. He said “… this Space feels like home… it is a good place for me to come and not be worried”. “I can be calm here”. The last time he was in to visit us he said “This is home, its warm, friendly and I was lost and I needed this … I feel safe here”.
As a follow up to our Person Centred Planning session at the end of June a conversation took place with 3 young Roma women (ages 15 -16 years). We talked about different types of work and I put the question to them… that if they could be anything in the world … what would they be?
One replied that she would like to be a nurse (this is the one who had taken part in the person centred plan), the second said she would like to be a cleaner and third said she would be nothing. I talked with them about their gifts and potential and the opportunities that could lie ahead for them. The atmosphere became very uncomfortable. It was as though in that moment the two of them became aware that something wasn’t right with how they perceived themselves. Nothing more was said and they left. I have seen them since and they are very chatty but I hope the ‘uncomfortableness’ was the first step in helping them to consider that there may be another way.