Feature: Romford YMCA event reminded Hayleigh of her lowest point

Hayleigh at the YMCA in Romford

Hayleigh at the YMCA in Romford - Credit: Archant

Fifteen residents were given an insight into what it meant to be homeless last Friday when they took part in the YMCA’s Sleep Easy challenge, but for one fundraiser it was an experience that she knew all too well.

Ten years ago, Hayleigh, now a mother of two, was forced to spend two nights sleeping on the streets when she found herself with nowhere to go.

For her the challenge bought back lots of painful memories.

She said: “At points during the night, I was miles away and people were asking me if I was OK.

“It just made me think because I was in that exact situation not too long ago and, if it wasn’t for the YMCA, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

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The challenge saw people sleep in the grounds of the YMCA’s Rush Green base, which is a far cry from the realities of life on the street.

“The Sleep Easy challenge doesn’t compare at all,” said Hayleigh.

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“I knew that I could go home where I had a bed and a warm shower. We had blankets and, when we were cold, we just went inside for a cup of tea and coffee, but when you are sleeping rough you do not have that luxury.”

Hayleigh recalled her time spent sleeping rough. “I was flat-sharing in Romford with a girlfriend. I hadn’t known her long, I was introduced to her by someone else.

“It was great, we were going out, having fun, but I didn’t realise the money she was actually spending to go out was her rent money.”

Things took a turn for the worse one night.

“The landlord turned up while she was at work and he told me what was happening. I basically had two options – to either pay her share of the rent or get out, but there was just no way I could afford it.”

The police told her the only place she could get help was the YMCA but she “didn’t have the heart” to tell them she had nowhere to stay.

Hayleigh spent the next two nights sleeping on the streets outside her flat.

She said: “It was not very nice. It was unsafe and it was very cold.

“I did not sleep because it was a Friday and Saturday night in Romford and there were lots of people shouting and smashing things up.”

Hayleigh, now 35, was given a place to stay at the YMCA in Romford, an experience she says was “life-changing”.

“It became like one big family and a safety net. I learned basic life skills and I learned how to use a computer.”

She added: “I met my husband at the YMCA.”

She now has a job working for children’s services there.

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