Homelessness and need
Homelessness and need

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Homelessness and need

6 Audio clip 3: Ernest

At the time of the interview, Ernest was 28 years old. He was living in the Cyrenians' hostel, where he had been for some time. He was trying to find employment, and was contemplating a move to independent living. However, he felt somewhat frightened at the prospect of leaving the security of the hostel, which he likened to a family.

Ernest is from Kenya. He first came to Britain, and Swansea, as a student, eight years before the interview. You will hear about the difficulties he faced as a foreign student in a foreign land. Ernest talks about how he was unable to ‘stay the course’ as a student, and how he ended up with insufficient means and accommodation. He eventually became estranged from his family and his homeland, and felt too ashamed to return.

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Transcript: Clip 3: Interview with Ernest

Ernest
I was born to a family of eight kids. I'm the fourth one. And I was born in seventy one, and we grew up in the city. Went to school, had an education. When I was home, I had an apprenticeship course with the local garage. My mum wanted me to continue my studies abroad. My dad wasn't sure. By then, my mum convinced my dad to send me to Swansea Institute. My uncle had studied in the Institute, and he recommended it. And he knew the principal personally.
I was excited about coming to Britain. Like, back home, everybody thought it was like … streets are paved with gold … and that thing. At the airport in Kenya, one said our farewells, and I was on the plane. I knew I was on my own. It was a total culture shock for me. I'd never seen so many different people - white people - so many in my life. I would lock myself in my room most of the day. I’d just come straight from college, run into my room, and lock myself up ... wait for the next day. I met a few Kenyan friends, but they were mostly in the university, not in the Institute, and they were on their last year. Then, when they finished their courses, they went home. Some got married ... stayed behind. And I was scared of making friends with people I didn't know.
In college it was on and off. I'd take out one year, come back, try again … drop out. I tried some counselling. It didn't help. And then, the only thing I thought would give me courage was … I started drinking. Put me in hospital for three days once. I tried overdose, but my landlady found me.
My parents came to visit me. They just knocked on my door one day. They didn't tell me they were coming, and there they were - both of them. They were divorced. I knew they were divorced, but they didn't want me to know that, so I just played along. They met my lecturer. And I went to them to London, then came back, started the college the next week. It didn't work. I was still late with my assignments and, in the end, I just couldn't cope anymore. I stopped going altogether.
I got cleaning jobs, early morning cleaning jobs, and I was alright. I shared a house with students from the Institute. They didn't know I'd stopped going to college. I didn't tell them. Christmas last year, they'd all gone home, and I came back from my morning job to find the landlord had emptied my room. All my belongings, he'd locked them up. And I went to talk to him. He said I owed him money, which I did, and I didn't have. So, at the end of the day, he told me I could have my stuff, but I was to move out.
I had some money, so I moved out to the YMCA. But then were told they didn't have any more funds to keep the hostels open. So, on the twenty third of December, I moved out to the Grand Hotel. I just packed all my stuff in a taxi and moved there. I had about two hundred pounds, that's all I had with me. So it was fifteen pound a night at the hotel. At the time, I had money, so I was alright. I felt I was alright.
Christmas come and gone, I'd got another job. Two jobs now - cleaning jobs, both of them - from half past six in the morning, till twelve, lunchtime. I was sacked from one job. So I had one still going on, but it wasn't enough money, so I went and applied for allowance, which was the Jobseeker's Allowance. They sent me a hundred and twenty quid the first week. Then they sent me a letter saying they'll have to stop my allowance ... they'll have to halve it.
At the hotel I was staying … sixty pound a week … it wasn't enough. But, because I'd stayed there from December to about March, and I'd been paying my rent properly, the landlord let me stay on a further month, till I got myself sorted out. There was a church, a temple, just across the road, where homeless people used to go have breakfast and sandwiches. I started going there, and I was introduced to the soup run. I was told there's a van that goes round. I met Marvin, the driver, and he told me about a place – Cyrenians. They take homeless people. So he suggested like, he'd talk to the people at the hostel, and see if they could take me.
It was a while before I got a reply. And, every day, whoever was on the soup run would bring me a book to read, because they told me I'm different from the other people who are there. They told me like, if I'd stayed out there much longer, I would have become something else … I don't know, maybe a drug addict, or whatever.
So I came to the hostel one Monday morning, and they let me move in. They run a project - arts and crafts project - where we can do painting, drawing photography, woodwork, carpentry, and lots more. I've joined the project.
But, at the same time, I've been unemployed for six months now. And, since I've been signing for the six months, the Job Centre is trying to get me back to work. What I did, I decided to do a course - a computer course - at the university. Hopefully, in six weeks, I shall have completed it. And probably then, once I get a qualification, I can get a proper job, and get on with my life.
At the moment, I'm in a project, whereby they're trying to get me my own place - my own flat or a bedsit. And they'll furnish it up for me. And I think it's time, like, I tried something, tried it out there myself, because the hostel staff give you your support. If you don't like it out there, you're always welcome back. They don't rush you.
Background noise – inside a cafeteria
It's a bit like a family. We have a laugh, now and then … we have our fights. Some weeks are bad for all of us, especially with the week when everybody's broke. It's a good thing though, when everybody's broke, because we're all there. We can sit and watch telly ... have a laugh. If we have problems, we go to the staff. The staff are like our parents now, and they sort it out for us.
When I dropped out of college, I was too embarrassed to go back home. I'd be the laughing stock of the family. My dad wouldn't like it. He might disown me, or something. Last I heard, he'd taken in a new wife and her son, who apparently … I found out was my dad's son, my brother. He stopped sending money to support me. So I took it like he don't want to know anything about me.
I've been here almost eight years now. Back home the language is Swahili. The funny thing is, if I went back home, I wouldn't know how to speak the language. I would hear it, but it would be very hard for me to speak. I would be like a foreigner in my own country. I would like to go back home one day. But I'd like to go with a qualification, so that to show like, you know, I was there for something.
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