Rough sleeping South Woodford dad: ‘I ended up on the streets after an injury at work four years ago’

Rusty in his tent in South Woodford.

Rusty in his tent in South Woodford. - Credit: Archant

Former builder Rusty has been sleeping rough ever since he was injured at work four years ago.

Rusty in his tent in South Woodford.

Rusty in his tent in South Woodford. - Credit: Archant

Former builder Rusty has been sleeping rough ever since he was injured at work four years ago.

But, with the support of charity Single Homeless Project, he believes he is on the right track to getting back into accommodation.

For the past three months he has been staying in a makeshift tarpaulin tent, in a hidden corner of a South Woodford car park, a stone’s throw from the Central line.

“It is very degrading being homeless,” he said.

“You get frowned upon. People tell you ‘I don’t want to give you money, you will spend it on drugs’.”

Rusty hints that he abused drugs in his youth but, now 50 and with two teenage daughters, insists these demons behind him.

Most Read

“Since being on the street I cannot afford to have a drug habit,” he said.

“People do not realise that the cost of living is high as a rough sleeper.

“You can’t buy raw ingredients to make food – you have no refrigeration.

“You have to buy pre-prepared food. And nowadays you struggle to find a sandwich for less than £3.”

The Loughton-born dad told the Recorder he had until recently been earning his keep by selling copies of The Big Issue.

But he has had to put a pause on this after he was admitted to hospital with a leg infection last month.

He said he ended up on the streets in 2015, after injuring his leg, but had spent much of the 10 years before that sofa-surfing.

“I was jumping up over a fence to let all the other builders into site,” he said.

“I had done it 30 times before but this time I landed badly and my knee bent back the wrong way.”

He sought no compensation from his informal employer, having been friends for more than 12 years.

But, put out of action for five months, he ran out of money and could no longer afford to pay his rent.

As a self-employed builder, he said he had no sick pay to fall back on.

“The reason I have been staying around here in South Woodford is so I don’t bring shame on my girls,” he said.

“If I stayed around Loughton and Debden way, people may recognise me.”

His daughters now live with his ex-wife and her new partner.

Rusty’s tent offers limited protection from the elements – but is home to all his worldly possessions.

“Sometimes I will wake up in the morning and a fox is biting my shoe,” he said.

“And it can be hard to get to sleep with the sound of the Tube rushing by all the time.”

But he says he prefers staying there to an offer he received to stay at a night shelter in central London.

“I heard that, if you go to some of these places, you have got to have your bag tied to your hand so you wake up if anyone tried to take it,” he said.

“Here I am out of everyone’s way and I am left alone.”

Since October, Rusty said he has been receiving one-to-one support from an SHP case worker called Jerry.

Jerry has helped him obtain replacement birth certificate, driving licence, set up a bank account, arrange doctors appointments and sign up for universal credit.

“I cannot praise these people enough,” he said.

He hopes to eventually find accomodation and return to work.

Redbrige Together

Redbridge Together, of which the Recorder is a media partner, aims to raise £500,000 for Project Malachi and The Welcome Centre.

Project Malachi will see a temporary hostel by created from recycled shipping containers in Chadwick Road, Ilford.

Your donations will help Project Malachi help more of the borough’s most vulnerable rough sleepers for as long as it is needed.

The Welcome Centre, in St Mary’s Road, helps with providing hot meals, showers, clothing and laundry but also advice and support, training and employment and a nurse-led clinic supporting health and mental health.

Businesses can support by donating money, raising funds, displaying Redbridge Together promotional material or offering work placements.

The campaign is an association between Ilford Salvation Army, The Welcome Centre, Ilford BID, the Ilford Recorder and Redbridge Council.

To get involved email

Donate £3 by texting LIFE to 70145 or at