Carolyn Kinsman, 13/12/2017

Zeenat BashirZeenat Bashir unexpectedly became homeless after her marriage broke down and was forced to sleep on a night bus for several months. She was helped by the Marylebone Project and currently lives in a short-term female-only shelter in Hackney.

Among those going into “survival mode” was Zeenat Bashir, an IT trainer who found herself homeless after her 18-year marriage broke down, her merchant naval officer husband died and she was saddled with mortgage arrears.

She became too ill to work and, with no living family, for three months she had to sleep on the back seat of No 25 buses between Holborn to Ilford, trying to avoid rowdy revellers.

Ms Bashir, 59, from Tower Hamlets, said:

“I was quite comfortable before, I had my 9-to-5 job but when you get divorced, things collapse. The people I knew disappeared suddenly and there were times I didn’t have money, but I had a bus pass and could benefit from a little bit of sleep on a long journey.

When you reach the final stop the bus driver tells you to wake up, I think they are used to it.

Then at 6am you go to the nearest McDonald’s and sit there.” 

Ms Bashir would take soap, shampoo and towel to wash in fast-food restaurant bathrooms.

She said:

"I was always scared and trying to hide. I was thrown in the deep end and had to accept it. Then I met a lady who was also homeless, who told me about day centres that could help me, where I could take a bath.”

Ms Bashir later found emergency places in churches, where camp-beds and mattresses are set up after dark.

She now stays at a short-term female-only shelter in Hackney, with her own bed and space in a shared room.

Ms Bashir is helped by the Marylebone Project, which offers a drop-in centre for 1,300 women each year delivering education, employment and training opportunities. But she is desperate to find a stable home, return to work and not get “trapped” on benefits.

Ms Bashir said:

“I had plans but when you lose the roof over your head, you lose your entire life, you lose your dignity and if you don’t have your dignity, you have nothing.”

The Evening Standard has launched a campaign to end homelessness in London and is raising money to enable our drop-in centre to open 24/7. This will will be the only one of its kind in central London and we hope will cut the numbers of women, like Zeenat, trying to catch a few hours of fitful sleep on the back seats of double-decker buses. 

Sue Way, the Marylebone Project's projects manager, said busy night buses can offer dry and warm sanctuary from assault, bullying and manipulation, but the new 24-hour facility was crucial.

Please help others like Zeenat, access the Marylebone Project's drop-in centre when they're at their most desperate - please give now.

Read more about the Marylebone Project...

This article originally appeared in the Independent.
Photo credit: Jeremy Selwyn/Evening Standard
Carolyn Kinsman, 13/12/2017