Wallsend mum speaks out about living in fear on the streets of Newcastle city center

At the age of 45, mum-of-two Mandy Pattison lost everything and found herself living in fear on the streets of Newcastle.

She lost her flat, sold her car for drink and drug money, and her daughter taken into the care of family. And after sofa surfing for a year she eventually found herself on the streets with only the few belongings she still owned.

Unsure of what to do or where to go, Mandy spent her nights in Newcastle’s Leazes Park, where every sight, smell and sound filled her with a deep fear she had never experienced before. But today she bravely shared her experience of homelessness after becoming the forefront of a new campaign urging the Government to do more to end rough sleeping.

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Mandy, now 51, from Wallsend, said: “You’d try to stay strong, try to stay tough and have your wits about you but really you were just terrified and couldn’t see any hope. It felt like nothing was worth living for because life had just turned to absolute carnage.”

She added: “I was so fearful out there that I ended up sleeping in Leazes Park out of the way of everyone. But that in itself was terrifying.

“You’re on high alert level with every sight, smell and sound. The sounds I would hear were like nothing I’d heard before – animal noises, footsteps coming closer – and you are fearful because you’re in the park alone in the middle of the night.”

Mandy said she first started to struggle with alcohol and drug addiction 10 years before she found herself living on the streets. She had worked all of her life and had managed to hold down a job until two years before becoming homeless, when she started calling in sick and missing work due to her addictions consuming her life.

She began struggling to find the money to pay for rent on her flat, which resulted in her losing her home and her children, aged 14 and 24. While her eldest had already moved out of the home, Mandy’s youngest went to live with her dad .

Mandy added: “My stomach would churn. I’d try to get the money together for the rent but not get the money. It was hell and I hated myself because everything good was lost.

“Everything I had before the addiction spiraled was completely trashed and my family and friends were watching me slowly kill myself – it was devastating for them. And at the time I wanted to end it because I couldn’t see another way out.”

Mandy Pattison who turned her life round after living on the streets

Mandy spent three months on the streets before she was housed in a hostel. During that time she said she would try and distance herself from people out of fear and spent most of her time alone.

She added that she would shoplift from supermarkets to get what she needed, rather than beg, adding that she’s not proud of what she did. On one occasion she turned to begging for a cigarette and found the experience so terrible she said it will live with her for the rest of her life.

Mandy said: “One day I was absolutely desperate for a cigarette so I asked someone and I will never forget how it felt for someone to look at you in the way I was looked at at that day and just say no. I’ve given loads of cigarettes out to people over the years when I smoked.

“But the look of disgust on this person’s face will always stick with me. I thought if you had to go to the level of being sat on the ground and seeing the way people look at you every day when you’re sitting there with your belongings, it’s hell on earth.

“People will see the bad before they know what’s in you. The way individuals out there are perceived is disrespectful, even when they’re trying to be invisible. You can tell the way a person passing looks at you, it’s awful and it’s judgemental “

She added: “When you see someone on the street, you don’t need to give money. Just a ‘hello’ and ‘are you alright?’ is enough, instead of just walking by. They’ll probably just say good morning and have a good day. It’s just treating people on a human level.”

After three months living on the streets of Newcastle, Mandy was offered accommodation in a hostel, which she described as “sanctuary” and the first time she had felt safe for over two years. She enrolled on a 12-step program to help her battle addiction and re-built a relationship with her family.

At six months sober, Mandy returned to the place where she spent her first moments living on the streets – a bench at Old Eldon Square. Mandy said: “On the first night I had nowhere to go. I went to the Hippy Green in Newcastle and I sat there on a bench with no idea what to do or where to go.

“Six months later I sat on that same bench and I was sober. I was in the hostel and I had just bought myself a couple of things from the charity shop – a couple of little dresses and a £1 lipstick from Poundland – I was starting to be myself again.

“Sometimes I still go back to that bench. Every time I’m in Newcastle I see the bench and it all comes back to me.”

She added: “Due to addiction I had lost myself, I didn’t brush my hair or look after my hygiene, because you can’t do all that when you’re on the streets. You take so much for granted, even little things like brushing your teeth with cold water.”

Now Mandy has been sober for five-and-a-half-years and is currently working as a support worker for Oasis Community Housing in Gateshead to help support people currently experiencing homelessness. She is also playing a vital role in Amnesty International UK’s latest campaign, Housing Is A Human Right.

Amnesty is calling for the current “priority need” condition to be abolished. At present, local authorities are required to assess whether anyone found to be eligible for homelessness assistance is deemed to be in a “priority need” category.

This determination of priority need is a significant block for many, especially people who are classified as “single homeless” or those without dependent children. Without a secure place to live, it is impossible to obtain work, find housing and get their children back.

As part of Amnesty International UK’s campaign, Mandy recently shared her own experience of homelessness at packed press conference at the organisation’s London HQ.

Mandy said: ” Homelessness can happen to anyone. The journey for me was drink and drugs. They took over. They cost me my life: my home, my family, my sense of self-worth, everything.

“For years I was so full of fear. I had to lean on services for everything. But now I can speak for myself – and by sharing my story, I want it to give others hope.”

She added: “There’s things I would change in my past – hurting my children and my behavior – I’d change a couple of things but to be on this part of my journey and to meet the people I’ve met now is amazing.

“It was horrific time in my life, but that horrific part has made my life more today than it ever was. I have more lust for life, more drive and passion.

“I don’t know what tomorrow brings but I just try to keep moving forward and the best thing I can do for my girls is to try and go to bed sober every night.”

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