I don’t know if I’ve ever blogged about the time I was homeless, but yesterday brought some of it back to me so I thought I’d just share a little bit.
The whys and wherefores belong in the dim and distant past but it happened at a time when I was working for The Rock Trust (support and accommodation for young homeless people, ironically enough). I was doing a part-time Access Course at New College dipping my toe into all things theological and loving it. The Bank gave us (me and Son #2) just seven days to get out of our house. That’s not a lot of time to find somewhere to live and pack up all your worldly goods – and books. Especially as you couldn’t tell anyone where you were going to be living in a week’s time because we didn’t know ourselves.
To cut a long story short, we were eventually offered Emergency Accommodation in a flat in Niddrie. Better than B&B, we were told. Niddrie, for those of you who don’t know Edinburgh, is one of the less salubrious areas – burnt out blocks of flats, marauding gangs, wasteland, junkies on every corner. We were only allowed to take our clothes and all the furniture would go into Council storage where we could have no access until a new council house was found. Emergency Accommation is not so bad. A cleanish flat all furnished with wipe-clean furniture, cups and saucers too. Oh how I wished I’d taken a mug! A safe in the wardrobe for our valuables and a warden who could come into the flat whenever she liked, and did, just to make sure we weren’t trashing the place. One key too, I remember, between us. No radio, no TV, no music, no visitors in case we disturbed the other residents.
As I stood there looking out the window on that first night, I remember wondering where God was in that place. And as I turned away I heard a voice shouting “Ruth!” from outside. “Oh no! A visitor! I’ll get thrown out and I’ve only just unpacked my knickers!” I looked out of the window and there stood Ernie, the husband of the local Piskie priest Sheila. I ran down to tell him I couldn’t have visitors – and how had he found me anyway? Turns out the Edinburgh grapevine had done its magic and he had dispensation to visit. “Sheila can’t come, she’s at a meeting, but she sent this…” A bottle of Gordons and Tonic and a purple plant. Now that’s what I call ministry. Towels and mugs followed.
After a few months we were offered our very own council home – a flat at Hyvots near Gilmerton. Another charming area. We had a day to decide because the letter had gone to our old address and had taken time to find us. I felt we had no choice so we agreed. It was in a block with about 12 flats on each storey. Metal shutters protected the windows. I think the previous tenant had been a Hearts supporter for most of the upstairs was decorated maroon… gloss. Yes, even on the walls. You know when you watch A Life of Grime and council workers go in to make a house habitable before it can be released. I don’t think they do that in Edinburgh.
Our furniture eventually arrived and it was good to be reunited with our own stuff. As I stood looking out over the Edinburgh skyline waiting for the Electricity Board to come and connect us, the lights started to go on over the city. Street by street lit up and twinkled a welcome. The sky offered pink ribbons weaving back and forth fading to lilac and then indigo. God was there too.
You found out who your friends were. Who would risk parking their car below the flats where under-10s could strip a car in a matter of minutes? I had some jumpy visitors! Bonfires were a nightly occurrence as toddlers ran through the flames shrieking with laughter. The drug dealer next door was raided a few times and always told the police that I could be trusted with his keys for the council to come back and repair the door. Like Peter I would mutter, “I don’t really know him…”
That was then… And yesterday I was asked to visit one of my little flock who has just moved into the area. Not into the miserable blocks of flats but into a lovely semi-detached. The flats have now all been raised to the ground and the area redeveloped into lovely houses with gardens. Right on the spot where Chez Hellish Hyvots once stood. There is a new Community Centre being built and the neighbours are friendly and offer help to one another.
You know, it felt really good.
We call upon the Sacred Three
to save, shield and surround
this house, this home,
this day, this night,
and every night. (from Celtic Daily Prayer)