Against the Current: Franc’s Inspiring Journey from Homelessness to Hope

This is me – Franc

“My name is Franc. In 2017, I lived in Edinburgh. I was knee-deep in financial problems, unable to work owing to physical and mental health problems and suffering a rogue landlord’s constant harassment. Everything came to a head. The situation became untenable, and with each passing day thoughts of self-harm surfaced more and more.

I had struggled before in my life. In 2004, a doctor and a nurse had made their way inside my flat. I’d become severely suicidal, and they warned me – either I admit myself to the hospital, or they would have me sectioned under the Mental Health Act. Fast forward to 2017, and it was like déjà vu. With all doors seemingly closed, and not knowing who to turn to or what could help, I decided to return to London, where I had lived before.

With very little money, no car, and the train fare out of reach, I bought a second-hand bike on eBay. I was a keen cyclist, after all, and it seemed possible to couple that with some cheap camping gear and just head out. The thought of leaving Edinburgh behind, on my bike, helped my suicidal feelings ebb away. I now had a plan of sorts…an escape plan. I would travel down to London and try to reclaim the life I had lived there.

I left early in April that year and headed back south on my bicycle. It took me some weeks to get to London as I wasn’t very fit, and it showed. However, London didn’t work out for me as I’d hoped it might.

So, I got back on my bike and headed west along the coast to see if any opportunities would arise there.

Along the way my newfound optimism began to wane as the struggles of getting through each day took their toll. Gradually, I just morphed into yet another homeless person drifting along aimlessly from day-to-day and town-to-town. Little did I know this would be my life for the next two years.

Despite planning for the journey south, nothing could have truly prepared me for the struggles of actual homelessness. I became very under-nourished, surviving on biscuits, salvaged food, and sipping water wherever I found it. The initial phase was gruelling, but as time wore on, I honed the skills needed to survive sleeping rough. Learning how to find the right spots to camp, understanding that moving every day was impractical, and most importantly, ensuring my safety by avoiding city and town centres was important.

Fearful of falling into the abyss that city homelessness represented, I decided to bury myself deep within the woods, trading the problems of city life for those of rural areas. Soup kitchens and community hubs for the homeless were no longer accessible, but on the other side, I escaped the risk of abuse, drugs, and police encounters common in urban centres. I learned to live with the challenges that came with rural homelessness, like travelling three miles just to get fresh water.

My home in winter

Living in rural areas was still extremely tough. It meant braving the harsh winters and the constant physical exertion. I once mistakenly drank water run-off from a farmer’s field, ending up in the hospital. This left me with weak legs, incapacitating me for weeks and draining my strength. Then there were storms with winds over 90 miles an hour, turning my tarpaulin shelter into a whipping sail. Sleep was often impossible.

Despite the hardships, I found ways to survive and even create small measures of comfort. I found fly-tipped bricks and an old Tesco basket, which I turned into a stove, so I could cook hot food. But being homelessness, especially in a remote area, is complicated – you have to develop enough skills to be able to survive, but the longer you ‘cope’ alone, the more entrenched, isolated, and fearful, you become.

My home

I remember a day when I woke up to a round of gunshots. I had unknowingly settled in a pheasant hunting ground, and it was hunting season. The landowner told me I had to leave, and it was this encounter that led me to the Turning Tides Community Hub.

Turning Tides was my lifeline, offering washing machines, showers, breakfast, and dry clothes. They provide everything a homeless person needs to start to find their way back to a normal life. Their services and support are extensive, and the staff are committed to helping anyone in need. As a steppingstone, they offered me a room in a shared 15-bed house, with others who had also experienced being homeless. I gained a sense of security and warmth that I hadn’t known in years.

“It’s never too late to change your life” – Franc

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I was forced to shield due to my prior heart issues. Thanks to Turning Tides and a housing association, I moved into a flat, coincidentally near to where my tent had been. Now, I feel like the flat is my forever home.  Recently, I even became part of the Association’s resident’s panel, supporting its operations and helping to deliver the best service it can to its residents.

So here I am, 10 years after my homelessness started, no longer surviving homelessness, and living in complete isolation, but finding my way back into a society that I was once detached from. Turning Tides didn’t just give me a roof over my head; they helped me to rebuild myself, my dignity, and my life. My experience of rural homelessness shows, I hope, that it’s never too late to change your life, no matter how dark the circumstances.”

To find out more about Turning Tides: www.turning-tides.org.uk

Listen to Franc’s story on BBC News:

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