Two Newham residents discuss the impact of homelessness on mental health

Newham-born Brian Hammond, 48, has lived on and off the streets for five years.

Newham-born Brian Hammond, 48, has lived on and off the streets for five years. - Credit: Kat Hopps

In a second look at mental wellbeing in the borough, the Recorder hears from two individuals whose struggles with mental illnesses were exasperated by their homelessness.

Debbie Brown speaking at the World Homeless Day reception at the House of Lords.

Debbie Brown speaking at the World Homeless Day reception at the House of Lords. - Credit: Debbie Brown

In January, it was revealed that the number of people rough sleeping in Newham had increased by 46 per cent in just 12 months.

Single homeless people are much more likely to have mental health problems in comparison to the general population, with 32pc of individuals reported to have a mental health problem.

Newham-born and raised Brian Hammond, 48, is one such person.

Brian fell into financial difficulties and was evicted from his council home as a result of rent arrears in 2012, several years after being “traumatised” by his partner’s sudden death from a brain haemorrhage.

“I lost everything, literally everything,” he said.

The former Britannia Tavern pub manager, who has lived on and off the streets for five years, says he has depression and anxiety which is worsened by his homelessness.

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“There is no life down here,” he explained of his situation. “I get run down and I shout. I do that because I am upset because of the way life is.

“I deserve better than this, I want a roof over my head.”

More recently, homeless volunteer Lorraine Tabone of Lola’s Homeless has supported Brian.

Life before meeting Lorraine was “tough” Brian says as he used to have to sleep in a tent.

“I couldn’t cook and there were rats,” he said. “It was absolutely freezing and I had a chest infection.”

Brian now lives in a small caravan, which was generously donated to him by a good samaritan, and has access to showers, shaves and clean clothes thanks to the support of Lorraine and charities.

Keeping “clean and tidy” is an important part of his identity.

“It is the way I have been brought up,” he said. “If you were to see me walk down the road, you wouldn’t think I am homeless. I take pride in my appearance.”

He adds that what makes life particularly difficult are the ever-present dangers of homelessness.

“I also have all this stress because of who is going to attack me,” Brian said.

“I would like to sleep all the way through the night. You have to sleep with one eye open.”

Brian says his mental health problems date back a number of years. He was in a severe car accident in 1974 that left him nearly unable to walk and he has been through periods of great stress.

He credits Lorraine for her support and hopes to get a council home again in the future.

He also wants to “find love” and work again, ideally in the pub trade once more.

“I loved it – I loved the atmosphere and the people in the pub,” he said.

A council spokeswoman said Brian first approached the council for support in 2012 and was referred to homelessness services and given suitable housing by charity Thames Reach.

In response to his current situation, she added that Brian had “failed to provide the necessary medical information required to progress his application” however “an up-to-date plan” would be provided once he had supplied the documents requested.

For so many people who have experienced homelessness and are still sleeping rough, ambitions for the future may seem near impossible.

Debbie Brown, however, proves how life can improve with the right support and outlook.

Formerly homeless for four years “in friends’ flats, sleeping in cars and riding the buses”, Debbie now lives in a “move-on” flat at homelessness charity Caritas Anchor House (CAH) in Canning Town.

Her arrival at CAH in November 2015 marked a new start in improving the mental health of the mum and grandmother who has borderline personality disorder.

“I know how to deal with it,” she said. “I am so mentally aware now that I can see the triggers coming so I know how to deal with them.”

This was important in dealing with recent tough personal circumstances which would have previously made Debbie susceptible to drinking.

“I haven’t dropped a touch of alcohol,” she said, advocating mindfulness and art as effective ways to now handle her stress.

Next up, Debbie will be working with the borough’s youth offenders team after completing training – “I am feeling well,” she said.

To find out support available for homeless people in Newham, visit newham.govuk, or the Lola’s Homeless Facebook group.