‘Pain and hardship is temporary’ ex-rough sleeping Uni of Herts student tells lockdown Hatfield
PUBLISHED: 08:00 31 May 2020 | UPDATED: 15:33 01 June 2020
A former rough sleeper turned student at the University of Hertfordshire said she is very hopeful about the future.
Meaghean Reid, 21, was forced to leave her home at the age of 18 to sleep on the streets and people’s sofas in various places throughout Hertfordshire.
“I would jump trains [passing the time] into London and then go back through to Borehamwood or St Albans,” Meaghean told the WHT.
“I also slept in a car park before.”
She knows what her life could still be like, without support from Hatfield-based Herts Young Homeless, and that makes her really hopeful about the future.
“Pain and hardship is temporary. [The lockdown] should give people a fresh perspective and I think it will make people more compassionate.”
After getting help, first with Citizen Advice who put her in touch with HYH, Meaghean was able to put herself through college and do her A-levels.
She then landed her place at the University of Hertfordshire in September 2019 to study English and History.
“I feel like I don’t quite fit in,” she said. “I was too embarrassed to tell people [that I was homeless]. I didn’t want to be seen as a basket case.”
So far she has had only one bad experience with a group of fellow students.
“They were very privileged and I spoke very common, they said. And they laughed at me once for not knowing what a brioche was.”
Now, she lives in other halls at the university, which have been great at supporting her during the lockdown when she has nowhere else to go.
“I’m slowly becoming more comfortable,” she said, “It’s something I wanted for so long and you put yourself down and say you’re not worth [it].
“That self esteem has to be instilled.”
But Meaghean said the situation is bringing back memories of being in a Borehamwood hostel, where she first stayed in temporary accommodation before moving off the streets.
“I am feeling isolated. You feel trapped and everything is so uncertain.”
However she is focusing on becoming a teacher, and doing a diploma when she graduates, or being a journalist, and helping people so they do not experience a life like hers.
“I want to help people where I can.
“I don’t want this to make me cruel because of what I have seen before.” Though she added that in many ways she is a normal student, who gets behind on deadlines and yearns to spend time with her friends when the lockdown eases.
Since she has left home – after being forced out and repeatedly thrown out since she was 16 by her strict Roman Catholic family – Meaghean has had no contact with her five siblings or parents.
“You don’t get to speak to anyone when you leave. That’s it.”
She added: “I think things take time and I’m fine if they do. I’ll be here.”
But the first-year university student does admit – when she’s not keeping calm and carrying on – that she does miss her little brother badly.
“I last saw him when he was 11 and he must be 15 or 16 now.”
The 21-year-old said she hopes if people read her story that they will also get support.
“I am positive and sometimes people need to ask for help. It’s okay to ask for help.”
During this time Herts Young Homeless has seen a huge drop in its donations, which go to helping young people like Meaghean get back on their feet.
As its forced to stop its community events, it is predicting a shortfall of tens of thousand in lost income.
Helen Elliot, CEO of Herts Young Homeless, said: “Here at [HYH] the need for our services is even greater.
“Young people are at risk and the challenges of coronavirus have simply added to that.”
Ms Elliot hopes the public will support them with donations so they can buy supermarket vouchers for young homeless people and data and phones to keep staff and service users in contact.
Though Gracemead House, its physical outreach service, is closed they are available online and are still actively trying to maintain the same level of service.
The service is available for all young people here hyh.org.uk/contact-us.
You can donate to Herts Young Homeless by going to hyh.org.uk/donate-to-hyh and helping others like Meaghean.
If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Welwyn Hatfield Times. Click the link in the orange box above for details.