Homelessness: ‘I was raped while sleeping under a pier in Blackpool’

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Eve was sleeping rough near Blackpool pier when a man assaulted her at night
By Michael Buchanan and Katie Inman
BBC News

Charities have warned the number of people sleeping rough in the UK is rising. Those sleeping on the streets already face freezing conditions, but in recent weeks there have also been several high-profile attacks on homeless people. BBC News has spoken to two people who were both violently attacked as they slept.

The stony ledge under Blackpool’s north pier is no place to find rest. The Irish Sea, whipped by a bitter wind, crashes onto the shore, hurling spray landwards and soaking the ledge. For several months last year, this is where Eve Monks slept. “I just sat there and cried all night, that my life had come to this,” says the 38-year-old, recalling her first night under the pier. “I kept asking God to take me as I didn’t want to be here at all.”

Eve, originally from Dublin, had been working as a carer in Blackpool when she suffered a heart attack and a stroke. Unable to earn, she couldn’t pay her rent and returned to her flat one day to find her landlady had thrown all her belongings onto the street.

She spent the little savings she had staying in a hotel for a few nights, but by July 2022, her money had run out and she had nowhere or no-one to turn to. Having scoped out various options, Eve chose Blackpool’s north pier as she thought she’d be hidden from public view.

Getting to sleep was difficult, she says. It was the height of summer and above her, the pier was open until late, with bars full of party-goers. On the evening of 22 August, a stranger spotted Eve. “I remember I hadn’t been to sleep for so long,” she says, remembering how she fell into a deep sleep that night. “And a guy came up and – he just raped me. I was kicking and shouting and telling him to go away from me. And he just put his hand over my mouth – I couldn’t scream or anything.”

Eve thought it would be a waste of police time to report the rape, saying: “I didn’t know what he looked like. I just closed my eyes so hard – I was wishing him to go.”

After some time, she went to the hospital to get examined. Someone there put her in touch with the local housing department, which eventually led to her being offered a small flat in Blackpool.

Earlier this month, a video of a McDonald’s security guard throwing water on a rough sleeper’s tent went viral. West Midlands police are also investigating an incident in which a homeless man was set on fire in a Birmingham underpass, last month. 

The charity Crisis says “violence, dehumanising verbal abuse, robbery and harassment are unacceptably common experiences” for many homeless people. A small survey it conducted, of 156 people with experience of rough sleeping in England, found 90% of them had suffered some form of attack.  A very small number said they had been sexually assaulted. However, there are no official figures for any attacks on homeless people.

“There is seriously a problem with a small section of society who think that people sleeping rough are an easy prey for some horrific crimes,” says Matt Downie, chief executive of Crisis. 

“To some people, it’s clear that rough sleepers are less than human, which is completely unacceptable.”

John says he woke to find flames at his feet

That’s certainly been the experience of John Campbell, who spent about a decade sleeping on the streets of Newcastle.

“I got my jaw broken, got booted in the face,” he says. “Woke up in hospital. I’ve been urinated on, while sleeping in a doorway.”

Having become homeless in his mid-teens, after falling out with his mother, John, 30, says his life spiralled downwards while rough sleeping. He became addicted to various drugs. “Anything I could get my hands on,” he says. If his daily begging routine didn’t go well, he would feed his habit by stealing and says he self-harmed on numerous occasions in an effort to end his life.

All the while, he says he was being repeatedly attacked. “My tent’s been sent on fire twice. The first time, I came back and all my stuff was burnt out, there was nothing left. The second time, I was actually in the tent, fast asleep. I felt something hot at the bottom of my foot, I woke up and the flames were just there, smoke everywhere. I nearly lost my life.”

John says the police had no interest in finding out who had attacked him, a sentiment supported by Crisis, which says most rough sleepers “don’t feel there is any point in speaking to the police”. The charity says most fear “they won’t take them seriously”.

John says he’s clean of drugs now and has been staying in a flat for nearly two years. He gets intermittent contact with his daughter, who has given him a renewed purpose. But he still gets visibly angry at people who attack rough sleepers, some of whom are his friends, still on the streets of Newcastle. “They think they’re just having a bit of fun when they’re doing it. But it’s not a laugh. It could cost someone their life.”

Eve says she is also slowly rebuilding her life, having received extensive support from the Salvation Army’s Bridge Project, in Blackpool. “Being on the streets is not a good place to be, for your health or anything else. I’ve had really low days. It was a really horrible time. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.”

If you have been affected by any issues raised in this story, you can find help and support via BBC Action Line.

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