As part of our winter campaign, SCT spoke with Luke Garth about his experiences with homelessness at Christmas.
Luke was a contestant on The Bridge – which we watched as fans of woodwork and DIY (and reality TV). Speaking about his experiences as a child, Luke is raising awareness about homelessness and men’s mental health in the UK. This is his story.
“Everything was fine until I was about 8, then me, my mum, and my sister were basically house dodging. We were in one house for a month, and then into the next house, and then the next house, and so on.
We’d all have to live in one room with no electricity, no heating, plain floorboards, sharing one bed, dodging the bailiffs and stuff. We’d gather up all the leaflets you’d get through the door, set a fire and toast marshmallows or bread on it. We were pretty much living on bread and OXO cubes. We did that in about 3 or 4 different houses ‘til I was about aged 10 or 11.
My mum kind of went off the rails, turned to alcohol a lot, she was an alcoholic, started doing drugs… She always tried to make sure that we were fed and stuff like that, we were always her first priority, but she had her own struggles, you know? It was kind of hard, her own struggles, still being homeless, not really having a home, dodging house-to-house, trying not to pay the money, and then it came to the point where I was about 10 years old, when we pretty much ran out of money. We ended up living in the car, so in my village there’s a bridge and we’d park there, sit in the car all day, after school, and sleep in the car, that was pretty much it for a few weeks. Then the car broke, so obviously we’d no money to fix it or anything. Then we were given a tent, so we used to walk around wherever we could to find abandoned spaces or fields so we could put up the tent.
Christmases were hard. But my mum always tried to do Christmas for us. In doing that, she’d also make herself skint and really stressed.
Obviously, it was never a question of us wanting the newest trainers or games console or the latest phone, I never had things like that, or holidays.
Christmases weren’t really Christmas. It was more about spending time with each other. Mum saved up enough money for us to have a Christmas dinner, we were in a house, she made sure the gas was on for the day, Christmas dinner was made, we’d sit around and have our stockings – we’ve still got those stockings now – we’d have an orange at the bottom and it used to just get filled with shit. That’s one of the only things I’ve still got from my childhood, that Christmas stocking. I haven’t really got any photos or drawings or anything like that, I haven’t even got a birth certificate. Those stockings are the two things that we’ve kept.
Since I was 17, apart from last year, and this year, I’ve always gone abroad for Christmas. It’s hard because I don’t really see Christmas as a family thing, whereas everyone else does. I’m like a proper Grinch. It’s not that I hate Christmas, but it just seems shit because of my upbringing, and seeing other people are like, “Family! Going back home! Decorations everywhere!” And they’ve got family traditions. But we don’t have any of that, I’ve never had that, so I usually just go abroad.
The question is always “are you going back home for Christmas?”.
That’s why I never went “home” for Christmas and always went abroad because I don’t have that “home” – I have a home now, but I don’t have that childhood home to go back to. I always struggle with questions like “where were you brought up?” because the answer is kind of “everywhere”, or “around these areas”. And people say “where did you live when you were a kid?” and it’s very hard to answer that. My home was wherever I was.
It’s weird because the bridge we used to sleep under was also where I used to hang around with my mates when I got older. We all used to park cars up there, play music, have a laugh, that was the place to be. But sometimes I’d look around and think, “I slept there…”
I never told anyone. There’d be too many questions. But I’m not afraid to go back there, it actually makes me smile now.
Christmas now is ace. I’ve moved in with my girlfriend, everything is going amazing, and it’s our first Christmas together. It’s weird being at home for Christmas, I’m so used to being abroad.
I’m now adapting to my girlfriend’s traditions. Since I’ve got no old traditions myself, I keep asking her what she usually does, and she’s been telling me what usually happens, when she usually gets up, when they have breakfast, what they have, what they do. And I’m up for it! Let’s do it! And we’ve got some new traditions now, matching pyjamas, all that stuff.
Christmas is still hard, because I’m still a bit off with it… I’m so used to just ignoring it really, it comes along and I don’t do anything special, spending it with the same people I’m usually with every day, doing the same things, listening to the same songs, I usually just think it’s boring so I’d go abroad instead.
I’ve always said my past has altered me and motivated me to do what I want to do. Even if it’s just to not be in debt, like, everything I have now, I own. Car, phone, TV, apartment, they’re all mine. I need that, so I know that I won’t ever go back to where I was. But it took time to get to this point, so I did my apprenticeship growing up. Now I’ve worked my way up, and started my modelling career so I get money through that, moved to London and started my own business there in plumbing, moved back up, got my own apartment. That’s all been motivated by never wanting to go back to what it was like when I was a kid. And I wouldn’t want my kids to go back there where I’ve been.
My aim for next year is to move abroad, I want to move away and live my best life. That’s all stemmed from my past, that’s motivated me, because I’ve been there and done that and I don’t want to do it again.
Nobody deserves to be homeless, ever.”
Last Christmas, we could not have imagined what an unpredictable year 2020 would be. This has been a year none of us will forget, and it has been particularly challenging for those in recovery from homelessness and addiction.
This Christmas, some people will find themselves struggling for the first time. Currently, new rough sleepers account for 55% of all rough sleepers. Shelter’s latest report revealed that during the pandemic, 253,000 people in England are homeless or living in temporary accommodation – these are the highest rates of homelessness and precarious housing in 14 years.