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“I didn’t believe that I had a warm home for the first time in so long” - Joinah's story

Joinah stands outside White Heather House

Joinah became homeless after leaving an unhappy marriage and suffering from severe depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress caused by childhood abuse. Joinah is now staying with HARP and focussing on recovery as she prepares for the future.

“I worked for the whole 14 years I lived in the UK, so I felt guilty being unable to work,” said Joinah, who is originally from Zimbabwe and had been working in a bakery as a Production Operative before her mental ill-health stopped her working.

“I had no idea I was depressed. I had been pretending I was ok for so long that I just broke down from holding it all together. I even tried to go back to Zimbabwe but my family were not happy that I had left my husband so I had no help, there were no jobs and because I had been out of the country for so long I had nothing to start with.”

With the help of a friend, Joinah came back to the UK with the intention of working and starting afresh. A friend said she could stay with her in Southend where she had previously lived for seven years.

“I was offered a job but they needed my marriage certificate to complete the CRB check and I couldn’t get a copy so I couldn’t take the job. When the friend I was staying with discovered that I would not be getting a job, she said she couldn’t help me anymore. I cried so much. I just felt like every door I tried had been closed to me.”

Joinah was facing being on the streets for Christmas when the Citizens Advice Bureau referred her to HARP, and she able to stay in HARP’s short-stay overnight emergency accommodation.

“When I arrived at HARP I was crying all the time, I didn’t trust anyone and I was scared that no-one could help me,” said Joinah. “I didn’t have any money coming in, no bank account, nothing. In the day I would wander around the shops or sit at the seafront in the cold and cry. I didn’t want to kill myself but I wanted something to come and knock me down. I felt like there was no way out and no matter how much I tried I was just getting more and more tangled. I knew that I was breaking down and I was scared and I thought that would be the end of me.”

In February 2020 we were then able to give Joinah a room in White Heather House, our single-gender accommodation.

She continued: “That first night in my room, I cried and I couldn’t sleep. I was scared that they would come and tell me to move out. I didn’t believe that I had a warm home for the first time in so long.”

Just when Joinah managed to sort out her paperwork so she could apply for jobs again, she was officially diagnosed with depression, anxiety and PTSD and the doctor signed her off work for three months. Then the lockdown happened and Joinah discovered she was in the high risk group for Covid-19 due to underlying health conditions. Joinah also struggled with some of the cultural stigma of being in homeless accommodation.

“I was worried about what people from my community would say. People assume everyone here is on alcohol or drugs but I’ve never done it. And in our culture you are expected to come to the UK and work hard to support the family back home so I felt guilty because I wasn’t doing any of that. But the staff here told me to take my time and not to rush.”

Joinah attended an emotional management group, cognitive behavioural therapy and one-to-one therapy sessions at HARP, which moved online after lockdown began. She said she can now see the light at the end of the tunnel.

“I’m getting better and better and I can see a future. In my therapy sessions I realised that I needed to renew my mind and take control of my life. I still go to the emotional management groups and I am still learning, but I’m more aware of what went wrong and I look forward to living again. Going to the groups made me realise how life can be. I have started to forgive and accept who I am.”

“In the job centre I saw a sign that said ‘If you don’t like the road you are paving, start paving a new one.’ And I thought, ‘Yes, that’s what I am doing!’ I am paving a new road for myself. It was like a confirmation for me.”

While Joinah focuses on her recovery, she has been volunteering part-time at a charity shop and for the Storehouse “Restore” project, which rejuvenates old furniture to sell. She is taking small steps until she is ready to work again.

“I am healing and I look forward to learning to fly again. My dream is to educate and help others. I want to help other women to know they are worthy and can be independent. My vision is now to make my mess my message and use my experience to help others.”

Joinah said she doesn’t know where she would be without HARP.

“HARP does more than just find you somewhere to stay; they help you face up to and conquer what led you to the situation. They listen, they encourage, they are compassionate, and they don’t judge you. Everyone needs and deserves compassion. Being homeless is not a choice, you don’t see it coming. It could happen to anyone.”

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