At 16, I found myself homeless and too afraid to tell anyone

The security guards were making their nightly rounds, but I’d managed to find a spot where I could hide – the bathroom. 

I didn’t want to get caught sleeping at the dance school, but without anywhere else to go, I had to take the risk. It was either this or the streets of Helsinki.  

At 16 years old, after I’d finished my GCSEs, I moved from the UK to Finland, where I was training to be a dancer. But after a few months living with my partner’s family in a city called Jyväskylä, I decided Helsinki was where all the best dancers were, and it was time to join them. 

So, I travelled to Helsinki and began training at a dance school there. However, I didn’t have anywhere to stay, or enough money to pay for accommodation. 

For several months, I would sleep on the sofas or floors of different friends’ houses in the city.  

Then, one winter’s day, I found myself with nowhere to stay. 

I tried three different friends, but they either didn’t have any room that night, or I couldn’t get a hold of them. 

I grew worried. It was very cold outside, and I was left with no other option than to seek shelter at the dance school where I was spending the days training. 

The school was based in a huge warehouse – about 10 floors high. The building had individual units for the arts, with studios for everything from dance to painting and photography. 

I was able to access the building by using a lift outside. I then went up to the level where the dance studio was and slept on the floor until morning. I made sure I was up early enough before anyone came in, so I could pretend as though I was just arriving at the studio with everybody else.

I would be there all day, training, and would usually be one of the last to leave. I’d then stay there again the following night. 

At times, I would sleep on a bench in the hallway, which connected the different studios, but then I realised security was patrolling the building. 

In order to avoid getting caught, I would hide in the toilets, and sometimes even sleep in a stall until the morning. 

During this time, although I was worried about potentially being cold and having to live on the streets, I was more worried about what people would think. It might also be a little bit of ego. I didn’t want people to know that I was sleeping rough or that I didn’t have a place to stay. 

Because I didn’t have a home to go to, I would just spend my free time in between training walking around the city – something I spent hours doing.  

I had enough money to get food, as my mum would send me some. But I didn’t want to worry her or say that I needed more. Instead, I told her that everything was good, and let her think that I was still living with my partner. She had no idea I was homeless, and didn’t actually find out until about a year ago. 

When my mum finally did find out, we didn’t go into too many details. I think it was better for her not to know how I was living at the time, it would have worried her too much. 

I lived like this for about a week, until I finally confided in a friend. 

I can’t remember how my friend and I began the conversation, but I think they asked me where I had been staying. They kept probing, it was as if they could sense something wasn’t quite right. And eventually I told them where I had been sleeping. 

Straight away he spoke to his mum, who gave him a number for a shelter, which he passed on to me. That night, I was sleeping at the shelter. 

I was lucky that I got exactly the support I needed. In the shelter, I wasn’t sharing with anybody. I had my own room, and the residents there were all teenagers. I was given meals and asked if I needed anything, so I felt really supported. 

I was in the shelter for about three weeks before I finally contacted my mum and told her I wanted to come back to the UK – although I didn’t reveal the exact circumstances I’d been living in. 

I stayed in the UK for a year, before moving to Holland for eight years when I was 18. After that, I travelled between Hong Kong and the UK for 10 years. 

When I was younger, my whole mentality centred around my goal to become world champion. I wanted to be the best dancer and I just loved dancing. So even when I was homeless, I used that as an escape – as long as I could dance, I was OK. 

But I know that I’m one of the lucky ones, and I carry that with me to this day. 
Having that experience means that now, when someone needs a place to stay, I’m one of the first to offer, because I know what it feels like to be on the other end. 

There’s enormous stigma attached to homelessness and rough sleeping. People sometimes assume those on the streets are lazy, or drug addicts, or don’t want a job. But there are many reasons why someone finds themselves without a roof over their heads.  

Being homeless in the UK during the winter months is particularly challenging. In addition to the cold weather, the emotional impact of Christmas can hit people differently. On top of that, we’re also battling a pandemic, which has stretched many charities. 

This is why I’m proud to support The National Lottery in their work to end homelessness. Since 2010, they have provided more than £576million to more than 3,000 projects that involve or support homeless people, or help tackle homelessness throughout the UK.  

I know what it’s like to be homeless. I’m fortunate that I’m now in a position where I have my own home, but I was lucky and it’s time we break the stigma around homelessness, and help those who really need it.

As told to Kathryn Snowdon

Thanks to National Lottery players, more than £30 million goes to good causes across the UK every week, which in turn helps charities and organisations which support homeless people in our communities. To find out more about National Lottery funding click here.

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