By Winter Johnson
As a teenager in Zimbabwe, John* dreamed of moving to London, where he would study architecture and design unforgettable buildings.
But as a hardworking and entrepreneurial man, he never thought he would be homeless.
After moving to the United Kingdom in 2002 at the age of 18, John’s educational dreams were dashed as he waited eight years for the residency permit that he would need to get into university. As he waited, he completed his Higher National Certificate and began his Higher National Diploma work, only to find out that it was not enough to gain him a place at university.
Undaunted, he started his own fashion label in 2015 as well as an interior design and construction business in 2018. According to John, what happened next began the series of unfortunate events that led to his homelessness.
In 2018 he quit his job at a local restaurant to work on his fashion label full time.
His very first client in his construction business refused to pay him for a job, due to a loan falling through.
And an investment that he was counting on turned out to be a scam, leaving him ‘penniless’ and unable to pay his rent for his Leeds apartment, he said.
Contacting a relative, he decided to move to London in 2019, only to find out that they could only house him for a couple of nights. He had no choice but to move out, with no place to go.
‘I didn’t sleep at all,’ said John regarding his brief time on the streets. ‘I rode my motorcycle around London all night just to stay awake. I was too afraid to sleep at night. I would sleep on the bench during the day.’ He quickly contacted Crisis in Shoreditch, who set him up with temporary housing supported by Crisis and GrowTH Housing. From there, he moved into a GrowTH Housing shared accommodation as a yearlong tenant.
Even though he had a place to stay, the fear of his temporary housing running out kept him busy. He picked up a job in landscape gardening and another one at Pret a Manger, and enrolled in a teaching assistant course in early 2020 to increase his skills. Quitting his job at Pret, he registered with a teaching assistant agency.
Then the lockdown hit, closing the schools.
‘I had to live on my savings,’ John said. ‘I was looking for other housing options but because I didn’t have a full-time job, I wasn’t sure what place would be suitable.’
With his yearlong tenancy approaching its end in 2021, GrowTH connected him with HOPE worldwide’s Two Step programme, who quickly got to work to find him a flat in Hackney.
‘I was relieved because I had spent most of my savings. I had no money for a deposit,’ John said. ‘The fact that I was able to get a flat without really struggling, it felt like a huge weight off my shoulders.
‘I was able to get a fresh start.’
Now at age 39, John is as busy as ever, working as a building manager, writing a book, and dreaming of the day when he can have a completely unfurnished apartment and build all the furnishings from scratch.
But for now, he is happy to be at home. To him, home is ‘paradise’.
Two Step receives more than 50 referrals a month from partner organisations that are also committed to helping those experiencing homelessness. Click to learn more about Two Step.
*Name was changed to protect confidentiality.