Homeless Northants man living in car for six years

Greg became homeless after an accident left him unable to work

By Natalie Bloomer

Tucked away on a country road leading into the sleepy Northamptonshire village of Titchmarsh, a four-by-four vehicle is packed full of belongings. There are sleeping bags, a flask, a stack of old newspapers and some cheese and bread. The items belong to Greg and this is the place he calls home.

It’s a bitterly cold morning and Greg is heading back to the car from one of his three daily walks. The icy grass verge is crunchy underfoot and traffic is passing at a snail’s pace as drivers try to avoid sliding on the wintry roads. 

The walks he takes are the only way he can get warm. He’s wearing multiple layers, a high-vis work jacket and a woolly hat but it is clear he is still cold. It’s approaching midday and a thick layer of frost remains on the bonnet of his car. 

“It was cold enough last night,” he says. “But I have two sleeping bags so I do alright. That’s why I go for my walks - to keep the blood pumping and warm me up.”

This hasn’t always been Greg’s life. He used to be a roofer and owned a property in Finedon but when a serious accident left him with a broken neck and back things began to go wrong. In the two years that followed, he tried to return to work but his injuries made it almost impossible. He was in so much pain that he was forced to quit. 

“There was a lot going on at that point and I was struggling,” Greg says. “In the end I couldn’t pay the mortgage and all the bills were stacking up. It just got too much.”

So he sold his house, paid off all of his debts and just left. That was six years ago and he has been living in his car ever since.

“It was a relief at first, I drove away from all the stress. I appreciated that time to myself, I went to Scotland and then Wales, I’ve been all over.”

He liked the scenic spots, places where he could park up and look at the view. He thought about staying in Scotland but in the end he came back home to Northamptonshire and has been parked in different locations across the east of the county ever since. 

The days are long, he is either on a walk or sitting in his car with the engine off so that he doesn’t use fuel. He has lost contact with his family and says that the only thing that breaks up the time are visits from people in the village. Local residents regularly check on him and take him food. 

“They’ve been lifesavers. I ran out of money about a year ago and I’ve been really struggling. I’m starving half the time but they’ll turn up with a couple of sandwiches or a flask of tea. I think sometimes they think ‘we better take him some food or he’s going to die’. Some of them even came by on Christmas Day for a natter, I can’t complain.”

In 2018 the homelessness charity Crisis estimated that in addition to the 12,300 people sleeping rough in the UK that year, a further 12,000 were sleeping in cars, tents or on public transport. 

It is unknown how many people are sleeping in cars in Northamptonshire because they can be hard to find and will sometimes move around and are therefore not always included in official figures, but there have been several reported cases in the local media over the last few years. One of those included a 70 year-old woman and her husband who spent four months living in their car in Northampton with their two dogs.

At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic the government launched the ‘Everyone In’ scheme which saw thousands of people moved off the streets and into empty hotels and temporary accommodation. 

There was confusion last week over whether that help would be extended into this current lockdown but on Friday communities secretary Robert Jenrick announced an additional £10m in funding and asked councils to “redouble their efforts to help accommodate all those currently sleeping rough.” He said there will also be a focus on registering those sleeping on the streets with a GP so that they can access the vaccine.

But for some people like Greg there are various and complex reasons why they feel unable to engage with this type of help. He says that the local council has offered him support over the years but that he is scared he will end up in a homeless hostel.

“There was a time when perhaps if the right help had been offered I would have taken it but now I worry where I will end up.” 

This is not uncommon for people who have been homeless for a significant period of time, it can be incredibly difficult to make the move back into secure accommodation. Greg knows that the time will probably come when he’ll need to take that step but doesn’t feel quite ready yet. 

“Maybe soon I’ll be able to get back into work and find somewhere to live. Right now, I don’t really make any plans for the future, I just get through each day.”

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