Four years ago, when he was 42, Nuno’s life collapsed. He had moved to the UK from Portugal in the early 2000’s, and had worked for 16 years for a company making desserts for a major supermarket. His job was as a senior operator.
He was hit by a bout of depression, and he had been absent from work without informing his employer. He missed four days of work.
Nuno recalls: “I came back to work, and the big boss said, ‘We need to have a meeting’. Then he sacked me.”
If Nuno had been made redundant, he would have received a month’s pay for each year he had worked for the company: 16 x £2,000 = £32,000. But Nuno received nothing, because he had been dismissed for cause.
Nuno had separated from his wife, and was renting a bedsit. He had to give this up when he ran out of money. Then, without an address, he couldn’t get benefits or a new job. He was forced to live on the streets.
He remembers: “I think for many people, if they had been through what I’ve been through, they would have died already. I was sleeping on ice in a sleeping bag, still shaking, waking up five, six times a night, from the cold. I would go a couple of days at a time with no food or a hot drink.”
“I would beg, sitting on the streets, asking ‘can you spare any change?’ Some people gave me a pound. Some people gave me more. They helped keep me alive. Once, another homeless guy put a knife to my throat and stole all the money I had: £8.”
Nuno was homeless in London for 3 years, before sneaking on to a train to Luton, to go to a funeral there. He stayed on in Luton, sleeping rough.
It was here that he was found by NOAH’s outreach service. NOAH is a Luton charity which for 30 years has been working for homeless people in Luton. They go out in the early morning to find and talk to rough sleepers. Which is how they came across Nuno.
“They found me on the streets. Gave me a hot drink, gave me some food. Gave me a roof to sleep under. And then they’ve been trying to sort out my status and everything.”
(As Nuno is from an EU country, and has lived here for more than 5 years, he is entitled to apply for settled status. NOAH is helping him complete the paperwork.)
Luton Rising supports NOAH’s Welfare Centre, where on any given day up to 100 people will turn up with a variety of needs. Many come to start their day with breakfast. Others have appointments, need to talk through problems or just want to come for company and a cup of tea. In the evening, the Welfare Centre opens up to offer soup and sandwiches.
NOAH is one of the vital community charities Luton Rising is proud to support, with our community support amounting to around £7 million a year.
NOAH are helping Nuno see some light at the end of the tunnel. This wasn’t always the case.
He says: “I tried to kill myself four times, by taking an overdose. I didn’t see any point being alive. I had suffered that much. I thought, ‘what’s the point of my life? Now, I’m glad I didn’t succeed.”