Homeless Story

Ashkan came to Solace this morning, exhausted and a bit dishevelled. We hadn’t seen him for over two years. We weren’t expecting him, but that’s how it is. He was feeling suicidal after another night sleeping in the park down the road. ‘I wake up feeling stressed and confused. I wish God would help me and give me a chance in life. I have nowhere to go – no house, no family, no money, no job’.

Ashkan isn’t allowed to work. It’s one of the conditions the Home Office imposes on him or he risks being fined up to £5,000 or being sent to prison up to six months. Like other destitute asylum seekers, he has no source of income, so he wouldn’t be able to pay the fine.

Another condition imposed on Ashkan is that he must live at ‘no fixed abode’. Sometimes he sleeps on the sofa at a friend’s house but his friend is in a precarious position as well and has very little money. The friend insists he pays £5 into the metre to take a shower - money he doesn’t have very often unless someone gives him some.
‘The last shower I had was a week ago. Sometimes I smell bad’. It’s the same problem with clothes. He only has the ones he’s wearing, including his trousers which are too big for him.
Food is a problem, too. Sometimes he doesn’t eat at all. If he gets given some money then he can eat. ‘Yesterday I had one egg and some bread’.
On Tuesday night, I woke up under a bush in the park after a couple of hours sleep. ‘I asked God, what am I doing?’ Two or three hours is as good as it gets for a ‘night’s’ sleep in the park. Sometimes I come across a drunk pissing in the bushes. They have never pissed on me but sometimes I get kicked when I am asleep.’
Occasionally, Ashkan bumps into Ahmed, a barefooted Egyptian, in the middle of the night in the park. He sleeps rough, too. ‘Don’t give up’, he says to me.
Ashkan is 32 now and has lived in the UK for eleven years. He was an asylum seeker who received £35 vouchers for basics and a roof over his head, but after losing his appeal to become a refugee, he was left destitute in January 2014. Up until that point, the Home Office sent him first to Leeds and then Barnsley.
‘The last year and a half has been a bad time for me. I’m getting more stressed and depressed. Sometimes I hate myself’. Ashkan wanted to say more, but he lost his train of thought and his eyes glazed over – ‘My brain isn’t working properly. I can’t think straight. I’m exhausted’.
So why, when life is so desperate, doesn’t he just return to Iran? ‘Because they will kill me’, he says with no hesitation. ‘The Home Office don’t believe me, but I know it’s true. Why would I live like this if it was safe for me to return?
It all began about 15 years ago when he met and fell in love with a girl he met in Tehran. Ashkan was working in a supermarket at the time and life was good. He was from an ordinary family who weren’t ambitious. His girlfriend, on the other hand, was from a high status family. Her father was a powerful mover and shaker in the Iranian regime and knew nothing about the relationship between his daughter and Ashkan.
For three years, the whole thing was kept secret until one day they managed to find some time together alone in his parents’ house and his girlfriend became pregnant.
Ashkan was working in the supermarket when the Police arrived to take him away for questioning about the relationship. Had his grandmother not bailed him out, that would have been the end for him. He knew he wasn’t safe because he had cast shame on a powerful man’s family, so he escaped to Turkey and from there moved on to the UK.
How does he know he would have been tortured or killed or both? ‘My family had lots of problems after I left constantly wanting to know where I was. My cousin called me about five years ago to tell me they had tortured my brother because of me, wanting to know where I was. My family have disowned me now because of the trouble I have caused.’
The Home Office and immigration judges don’t believe any of this and presumably think his life would not be under threat if he went back to Iran, but it is hard to understand why anyone would choose to be homeless, sleeping in a park, if there are better options available.
‘I loved that girl too much and she loved me. We only slept together once. I was 19 and she was 18.’
When it rains, Ashkan sleeps under a bridge or in the bushes in the park. ‘I wake up all the time because it is cold, even in the Summer. I wake up feeling stressed and confused. Sometimes I go for a walk in the middle of the night to warm up. I can’t carry on like this’.

You can help people like Ashkan by donating to Solace using the Justgiving link on the right hand side of this post.