‘How can you have a stranger in the house? Are you not nervous?’
When I tell friends that I have taken a homeless person into my spare room, that’s the type of response I’ll usually get.
But I don’t feel worried. To me, it’s just like being a landlady.
The process works like this: I could have someone living with me for six months – they might be at risk of, or experiencing, homelessness – who, thanks to not-for-profit Standing Tall, now has a stable job and needs a home to maintain their employment.
They rent a room of mine that’s not being used for £500 a month, with the rate increasing to £750 a month in London.
All it requires of me is having a spare room and being there if the person staying needs any advice, or if they don’t know the local area.
I’m there for them if they want to talk through their difficulties – some people do, while others just want to get on with their lives. I really, honestly, don’t have any fear.
I’ve always felt passionate about helping people – especially because I heard stories from my parents about when they rented rooms in other people’s houses when they first came to the UK from the Caribbean in the 1950s.
Strangers – white British people – had to take them into their home.
Growing up, I always wondered what would have happened if those white British people had said no. What would have happened to all those Caribbean families?
That thought has always stayed with me and it’s one of the things that makes me want to do what I’m doing.
So when I moved into my current home in 1990, I knew I wanted to open it up to those who need help.
For many years, I was a foster carer.
I’ve also worked with an organisation called Birch – who help women seeking asylum – offering up space to people they support.
It gives me so much happiness to be able to help people.
So when I first heard about Standing Tall in early 2022 through a local magazine that came through my letterbox, I jumped at the opportunity to become a host.
I called the number on the ad and ended up speaking to Christy Acton, the founder of Standing Tall, who agreed to send me more information on hosting.
I read through it, but actually ended up completely forgetting about it!
It took my daughter-in-law bringing it up a few months later for me to commit to meeting Christy, who took me step-by-step through becoming a host.
Christy really put me at ease, and the process was incredibly stress-free.
You meet the person you’re hosting at least twice; it isn’t just someone that turns on at your doorstep.
Both of you sit down and they tell you a bit about themselves, where they come from, what experiences they’ve had; and then I can talk a little about myself and my family.
We can see whether we fit, if we’re a good match and if they would feel comfortable living in my home. Knowing that the arrangement is backed up by Standing Tall, rather than just between myself and the individual, means if there is an issue, you can always flag it with the organisation.
You’re really not alone; and that’s especially important for me because I’m a widower. To be 64, and have someone come into your home that you don’t know – while still feeling relaxed and supported – is a really big thing.
I took time to decide, considering everything carefully – but in September last year, I decided to take the plunge.
The first person who stayed with me was Stuart, who started his job being trained up as a painter and decorator for a national construction company. He was a really friendly man, and there was no awkwardness all. We’d catch up for a cup of tea when we both found ourselves in the kitchen. I enjoyed hearing how his day at work had gone.
Hopefully, he enjoyed staying with me as much as I liked having him in my house and I’m thrilled he’s been able to get his own flat in South Birmingham.
Then, there was Mark, a 19-year-old who started as a labourer for a local construction company. I remember in the early weeks Mark would go straight up to bed early as he needed his sleep to be ready for work the next day. But as we got to know one another, despite his young age, I realised Mark was a really mature young man and I always enjoyed our conversations.
He has recently moved out as he managed to get his own home and I wish him the best of luck for the future.
At the moment, I have my house to myself, which is lovely for a while but I know it won’t be long before I look forward to having the company of someone else.
I feel good knowing that I’m helping, whether that means accompanying my guest to an appointment, or letting them have their own space.
Those who stay with me know I will leave them to it, but they also know that I am there for them if they need support.
My advice to anyone who wants to be a host is to go with their gut instinct.
Christy always tells you about the person he’s thinking of matching you up with, so even before you meet them, you can be honest if you feel it’s not the right connection.
Helping people reminds me of my own parents and of how they were aided.
We all love music in my family, and my mum used to love Doris Day. One of her songs goes, ‘If I can help somebody as I pass along […] then my living shall not be in vain’.
It’s always stayed with me and it’s another reason why I wanted to volunteer with Standing Tall and other organisations. If I can help someone, then why not?
I’m doing something that not only makes me feel good, but hopefully the other person – who I’ve helped – feels good within themselves.
I enjoy the company and if I can help people to move their life forward, then everyone wins.
Find out more about hosting with Standing Tall on their website here.
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