Under the Arches #7 – A surprise phonecall

12th June 2024

Please note this blog mentions death, and physical and sexual abuse (no graphic descriptions).


I’ve just put the phone down. The call was a joy, one of those moments to treasure because the woman I was speaking to has been in a three year relationship, living away from Sheffield, in settled accommodation and enjoying life. I wish I could share with you how moments like that make me feel. It’s more than a spring in my step, it’s a deep down sense of relief, celebration and hope rolled and entwined together.

Alice* called because she wanted to know if I remembered the name of the crematorium we’d gone to for her mum’s funeral. At the time her mum died, mum and daughter were both street homeless, rarely seeing each other because of the hurt that existed between them and within the rest of the family. Yes, I remembered the crematorium. And I was glad that enough time had passed for her to be interested and sympathetic towards her mum.


Her mum’s story was tragic. I had left the funeral frustrated and a little angry because the way Sophy* (Alice’s mum) had been spoken about glossed over the tragedy. Sophy had been street homeless for a number of years, and when she started to live the life she aspired to, it was only for a short time before her death.

It was during those good years that she told us about her childhood. Most of it was marked by abuse from a male relative. It was regular. She put up with it because she had feared that if she didn’t, her younger sisters would be victimised in her place. She protected them.

Those years of abuse impacted Sophy’s development. She would have lived in near constant anticipation of the next abuse and with the questions the abuse left her with. The mental and emotional torment she never escaped.

How was she to make sense of the world? How could she trust anyone? How could she understand relationships as loving and healthy? The truth is she struggled. She wanted to dominate people close to her, dictating the terms to get her own needs met and avoid others abusing her yet again.


None of that was mentioned as people gathered to say their final goodbyes. And that meant we couldn’t talk about her strength in tackling and nearly overcoming the demons she faced. In 2014, Sophy had gained a tenancy. Her work with a few, mainly female, support workers including those from The Archer Project had got her to a place where she was building a home. She saved and went on a weekend break. She struggled to build a new social network, but that isn’t unusual. It takes time.

But the thing that broke her progress was a patch of mould in the bedroom. She reported it and nothing was done. It grew darker and spread until she was convinced it was doing her physical harm. But that patch and the lack of repair told her that, once again, nobody really cared.

Sophy believed that she was one of those people who would always have to put up with bad stuff. Abuse, the stigma of homelessness, being someone people look at judgementally, and much, much more. She was that person that didn’t matter. So, she walked out of her flat to keep herself healthy, and what did it matter if she didn’t have a home?


Sophy disappeared for a few months. She was on the street but she wouldn’t use the services. You might think it couldn’t be difficult to find somebody but that’s not the case. When someone doesn’t want to respond, there is little that can be done to change that apart from waiting and offering. When a person has felt they are getting somewhere and that success disappears, it can lead to a real decline. It did for Sophy.

We heard some stories about her self-destructive behaviours. Was it because she blamed the services for failing her? Possibly. Was it because she felt a sense of failure and didn’t want to meet people who she thought might think she had failed? I don’t know.


I know we trusted that at some point we would rebuild the relationship. That’s what homeless services do. It’s part of our job but it’s also what we want to do, to remain there regardless of what has happened. And Sophy came back. But very soon after, she died.

We had taken Alice to the funeral, and the worry was that her experience of life would prevent her from succeeding. Thankfully not.


*Names changed to protect identity.


Written by Tim Renshaw, CEO of The Archer Project.

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