“Some wounds go so deep, only beauty can heal them”– Timothy Radcliffe
As the year draws to a close, it is time to reflect, to remember our friends, to thank you for helping this tiny charity to keep going for another year. A year when the fragility of the earth is on all our minds, the sadness that the most vulnerable are at the sharp end of conflict and climate change. It is overwhelming to see and meet people who have had no choice but to leave their homes, risk their lives and those of their children, to seek safety in a strange country. With your help this year we have been able to reach out to some of the most vulnerable women who have found themselves on our streets. Those of us who do the work have the joy of knowing the women and the only way I can think of to thank you is to try to share a little of that joy with you.
One of the most vulnerable women we worked with this year was Rachel who was living in a tent on Euston Road. On top of the all the usual dangers of life on the streets, it came to light that she had cancer, but had fallen off treatment since becoming homeless. I can’t imagine how vulnerable someone fighting cancer alone must feel, let alone while living in a tent on the street. Rose, her Street Talk therapist with a heart bigger than Kings Cross Station, coaxed Rachel to register with GP service for homeless people and is now working with her on the lifetime of trauma which led to her living in that tent.
Nur made a perilous journey to London to escape an honour killing after she was raped in her own country. Now in her sixties, she had lived in fear of arrest in London for many years, her vulnerability exploited by people who had her cleaning shops at night in return for a room and a pitiful bit of cash. When those shops closed due to the lockdowns, they had no more use for Nur and put her out on the street. Now in poor health, she was discovered sleeping in the porch of a church by a priest who put her in contact with Street Talk. An immigration lawyer who offers pro bono work to Street Talk’s women has taken on her case and for the first time in many years, Nur is living without the constant fear of the knock on the door from the police.
I opened this letter with those words by Timothy Radcliffe because I saw the healing power of beauty this year. Hibo’s troubles started when her stepfather pimped her out as a child. She was beaten and exploited by him until she was in her twenties when she begged a punter to help her escape. He agreed to buy her freedom and, after paying a handsome sum to her stepfather, he arranged for her to study in London and Hibo left Nigeria with hope of a new life. But when she came through arrivals at Heathrow airport, Hibo realised that she had been tricked — her stepfather’s brother was there waiting to recapture her and she found herself a prisoner in a brothel, exactly the life she had fled from in Nigeria. It was ten years before she escaped but like Nur, she then found herself exploited because of her illegal immigration status. One night, the much-feared knock on the door from the police came and Hibo was handcuffed, put in the back of a prison van and taken to Yarl’s Wood. After a period of nine months that she describes as the most harrowing time of her life, Hibo was released and found her way to Street Talk. Amanda, one of our therapists, has worked with her on trauma as well as accompanying her every step of the way through the brutal asylum process. Last month Hibo was granted five year’s leave to remain. She told us it feels strange to know that she is safe after so many years of living in fear.
In May our Jesuit friends at St Beuno’s in Wales welcomed Hibo, for a period of respite. I found her one rainy morning standing at the kitchen window looking out across the Clwyd Valley through the drizzle and grey. When she heard me, she said, “I had forgotten beautiful.” Surprised by joy, I was moved by the appreciation of the beauty of that morning when you could barely see anything though the rain, the love of life. That is the beauty we glimpse in this work, the infinite beauty of the human spirit.
In other news, we were delighted when our own Amanda was selected as a finalist in the Human Trafficking Foundation’s Rebuilding Lives Award for her work with Street Talk this year. We’ve also heard that Street Talk has been shortlisted for the London Community Foundation’s Collaboration Award at the 2022 London Impact Awards. Both nominations are tribute to the difference our work is making every day. I am constantly moved not only by our women, but by the good people who come to Street Talk, to work, to volunteer, to donate. I never lose sight of the beauty of that. We do this work together, we could not have worked with Rachel, Nur, Hibo or any of the women who found their way to Street Talk this year, without your help. Thank you.
On behalf of the Street Talk team, Alison, Amanda, Aoife, Asta, Catriona, Christina, Karl, Oliver, Rose, Shirley, Tuesday, Vera, our volunteers and trustees, I wish you all a happy Christmas and a peaceful, safe new year.
The names of the women in this letter have been changed.