Election 2021: 'I was homeless now I'm voting for the first time'

By Chris Robinson
BBC News

  • Published
Media caption,

'I'm voting for the first time at the age of 30'

At the age of 30, Aaron Scullion is preparing to vote for the first time.

Having experienced homelessness and rough sleeping during his 20s, his life is back on track with a job and somewhere he feels safe living.

He will be joining other voters going to the polls in South Shields, in the north-east of England, on 6 May for the local elections.

"I'm excited to learn about what people have to offer and what people have got to offer me and people who have been in my situation," he said.

Better support in the town for people sleeping rough is one of the things he would like to see.

"I think there should be street rangers around just to check where rough sleepers do sleep or can sleep.

"There are a lot of homeless people who are hiding because they don't want to be seen or heard or they still have a little bit of pride left.

"Even just a quick 'hello' or 'how you doing? or 'would you like a cuppa?' They appreciate that."

Image caption,
South Shields is one of six areas which makes up South Tyneside

Aaron said it is "really easy to find yourself homeless".

He was in his early 20s when he first experienced it after being evicted from his council flat for not paying his rent.

He was offered shared accommodation but said he did not feel safe living there. At times, he would sleep on the streets.

"Sometimes I was scared to go back home," he said.

"I don't take alcohol or drugs so they were trying to send me to places where I just wouldn't fit in and I'm not comfortable."

Image caption,
Aaron says he would like the council to introduce street rangers to help people who are sleeping rough or homeless

After moving to Carlisle, in Cumbria, he found himself in difficulty after losing his job and returned to the North East.

He said he was offered the same type of accommodation and the problems started again.

"I tried to hide so I would go to places where no-one would ever go," he recalled.

"I would go to industrial estates where no-one would be rough sleeping, where people who had been out on the drink couldn't come and kick you or...whatever they do."

Image caption,
Aaron Scullion would like to see better support for people sleeping rough

While he slept rough he kept clean by showering at a local leisure centre and washed his two sets of clothes at a launderette. He would hide away inside libraries to keep occupied and warm.

"When it's cold it's really cold, you are always fighting to keep yourself warm," he said.

"Although I was on the streets, I still tried to have that little bit of pride and I didn't want to tell my family I was homeless."

Image source, Emmaus North East
Image caption,
Aaron has a job with Emmaus North East helping others who have faced homelessness

In 2018 he met the charity Emmaus North East and it offered him a safe home and a daily routine.

Three years later he's landed himself a job there, helping others who've experienced homelessness.

"My head is in the best place it can be at the minute," he smiled.

"I say it's always a life experience. I believe if I didn't go through what I've been through, I wouldn't be where I am today."

He said he believed the council needed to better understand the needs of homeless people and those who find themselves at risk.

"They need to look at the individual themselves, instead of a category that we are put in," he said.

South Tyneside Council said it was "committed to supporting all its residents in times of crisis" and would continue to look at "innovative solutions".

"We work hard to get residents housed in secure accommodation as soon as possible however this is not always easy depending on the needs of the individual," it said.

"While we cannot comment on individual cases, every person who approaches our services is given a personalised housing plan and we work with them, and our partners, to get people into secure accommodation and hopefully on to a pathway to transform their lives."

Full details of candidates for South Tyneside Council can be found on its website.

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Note: This lookup covers national elections in Scotland and Wales, the Hartlepool by-election, as well as council and mayoral elections in England and Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) elections in England and Wales. There may be parish council elections or council by-elections where you are. Check your local council website for full details. Last updated: May 11, 2021, 12:35 GMT

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