The Extraordinary Hope of Dawn Brightside is a story that has been brewing inside of me since the first time I saw a homeless person sleeping in the street when I was a young child. I remember being outraged and confused about why a human being should have to live outside on cold ground. Why hadn’t anyone helped them? Why didn’t they have what I had – a comfy bed and a warm home?
After starting work in a homeless hostel as an adult, I got to know the residents for the individuals they were – people with stories just like anyone else. I realised how easily homelessness could befall anyone. I was deeply inspired by the strength and resilience so many of the residents displayed by pushing through so many challenges and working hard to improve their lives. I witnessed the creativity and compassion showed by staff members (some of whom had been former residents) and believed even then, that a homeless hostel would be a wonderful setting for a story.
Each character and storyline in my novel is fictional, but it was my aim to capture the struggles, tenacity, humour, and teamwork that can be found in hostels and homeless services. In recent years, homelessness has become a louder conversation. However, a lot of what we hear or read about is wrapped up in figures and statistics. While numbers are useful, all too often we miss people’s experiences and the very human stories behind them.
When writing The Extraordinary Hope of Dawn Brightside, it was my hope that it would raise awareness and spark conversations about the issues homeless people face. These issues are magnified in winter, which is why the colder months are a particularly important time for us all to be talking about homelessness. Aside from the obvious pressures of harsher weather conditions (often leading to death for those sleeping rough in sub-zero temperatures,) pain is experienced around the hype of Christmas and the winter holiday period can be excruciating for the many homeless people who have limited/no contact with family.
Winter homelessness doesn’t just look like a sleeping bag in a shop doorway. It’s sleeping on people’s sofas, not knowing how many more nights they have before they’re out on the freezing streets again. It’s staying in squats or in unsafe conditions. It’s the uncertainty of temporary shelters and nowhere to call home, and painful memories of past winters from different times and the fear of facing yet another new year full of poverty and struggle.
Places like St Jude’s Hostel for the Homeless in my novel The Extraordinary Hope of Dawn Brightside are essential not only for the provision of warmth and shelter but to help people to seek support for other vital areas of life – physical and mental health, addictions, financial support such as benefit payments and addressing debt issues. Many hostels and homeless charities help people to access training, volunteering opportunities and employment.
The pandemic and the added economic uncertainty will have an impact on already struggling homeless charities. Here are some ‘real life’ organisations who would be helping the characters in my story such as Dawn, Jack, Cara, and Tear-Drop Terry to rebuild their lives. Please check out their websites and consider supporting them during this tough winter period – the world is full of real life Dawn Brightsides who still need their help.
Shelter – www.shelter.org.uk
Shelter help people facing homelessness and sub-standard housing via face-to-face services, online advice and a free national helpline number: 0808 800 4444
They provide free legal advice and run successful campaigns regarding the provision of fair and appropriate housing.
The Big Issue – www.bigissue.com
Offers employment opportunities to homeless people, supports social enterprises and provides long-term support to vendors. The Big Issue magazine is award-winning and worth every penny. Subscriptions are additionally available online when vendors are unable to sell face-to-face during lockdown conditions.
The Luminary Bakery – www.luminarybakery.com
A social enterprise bakery providing training, paid employment and support to women facing homelessness, poverty, and social difficulties. Their cookbook Rising Hope and other merchandise available from their website.
Porchlight – www.porchlight.org.uk
Providers of supported accommodation, ongoing housing support, young people’s services and education, and homelessness prevention work in Kent and the South east. (Always worth doing a search for providers in your local area.)
St Mungos – www.mungos.org
Providers of street outreach, emergency shelter and homelessness prevention work, as well as assistance with skills and employment, recovery and offender services throughout London and the South.
Emmaus – www.emmaus.org.uk
Provides accommodation, meaningful work, training, life skills and ongoing support for homeless people in all areas.
Homeless Link – www.homeless.org.uk
Gives support to homeless services by campaigning for policy changes and providing training, tools and resources as well as working on strategies to tackle homelessness.