Ed­u­cated, well-spo­ken – and liv­ing in a porch But home­less woman’s spot is no almshouse, says church

Birmingham Post - - NEWS - Mike Lock­ley Staff Re­porter

IN the porch of an empty church prop­erty, Sabina Hansard lies down on her card­board bed and set­tles in for the night.

It is an in­con­gru­ous sight in the shadow of 13th cen­tury St Alphege Church, its grounds a leafy oa­sis in the heart of Soli­hull – and it is an even more im­prob­a­ble protest.

Rough sleeper Sabina be­lieves the prop­erty, which she de­scribes as a almshouse and has lain empty for close to a year, should be made avail­able to the needy.

“Almshouses were built for poor and those in need,” she says.

“Rather than stand­ing empty, this prop­erty should pro­vide shel­ter for the home­less.”

Sabina, who has spent months in the door­way, is wrong, St Alphege has stressed.

The small prop­erty is not an almshouse but one of three houses rented by the church from Hanover Hous­ing As­so­ci­a­tion and used to ac­com­mo­date staff.

Within weeks, they say, Sabina’s tem­po­rary shel­ter, after be­ing fully the re­fur­bished, will be oc­cu­pied by the new youth min­is­ter. The church’s hands are tied.

The row of houses is within a com­plex of 20 flats for the el­derly in sleepy St Alphege Close. A sign on the nearby church wall pro­claims: “You are wel­come to this peace­ful place”.

With birds singing from tall trees that fringe the area, it is an un­likely bolt-hole for a street sleeper.

But then, Sabina, ar­tic­u­late and well-spo­ken, does not fit the public per­cep­tion of a down-and-out. The for­mer coun­cil worker’s fall from grace is a salu­tary warn­ing to us all.

She grew up in well-heeled Meri­den and was ed­u­cated at Bal­sall Com­mon’s Heart of Eng­land School.

Sabina found em­ploy­ment as a re­cep­tion­ist be­fore work­ing in Birmingham City Coun­cil’s en­vi­ron­men­tal health department for five years. She then trav­elled, liv­ing in Cal­i­for­nia and Bangkok be­fore buy­ing a lux­ury house with her part­ner in Den­mark.

Yet she is now on the streets – and has been, off and on, for close to a decade. In 2012, she dossed down in a door­way close to Coven­try Cathe­dral. Now St Alphege’s grounds are her gar­den.

It was a se­ries of set­backs that saw Sabina slide from so­ci­ety. Fol­low­ing a trau­matic break-up from her part­ner in Den­mark, Sabina aban­doned the home they bought to­gether and moved back to Eng­land.

She com­pleted an Open Univer­sity de­gree in oceanog­ra­phy – the study of the seas – be­fore tak­ing out a mort- gage on a house in the Birmingham area.

But Sabina claims she suf­fered at the hands of anti-so­cial neigh­bours, the trou­ble reach­ing a peak when some­one took a pick­axe to her front door.

Badly shaken, she took sick leave from work, suf­fer­ing post trau­matic stress dis­or­der. Un­able to keep up with the rent, the streets beck­oned.

“It’s just been a night­mare and I’ve been drift­ing around like a leaf on a whirl­wind ever since,” says the 56-year-old. “I’m out­side all the time.

“I’ve just been do­ing my best to try to get a job but no-one will give you a job when you don’t even have a home ad­dress.

“I go for a job and they say ‘Yes, come back when you’ve sorted your ac­com­mo­da­tion’.

“There’s noth­ing I want more than to get back into work and back into so­ci­ety.

“It’s the weird­est hell when you’re out of work and home­less.”

She says se­vere asthma has meant she has turned down in­terim ac­com­mo­da­tion due to the damp con­di­tions.

“There just should be some­thing else out there to get peo­ple back on their feet,” Sabina adds.

She has wan­dered the coun­try and ad­mits that she has strayed from the straight and nar­row with mi­nor con­vic­tions for theft.

Church staff and res­i­dents at Alphege Close have seen Sabina and are con­cerned about her. That con­cern height­ened three weeks ago when she re­mained slumped in the door­way long after she usu­ally de­parts the grounds. On that oc­ca­sion, Hanover Hous­ing As­so­ci­a­tion es­tate man­ager Mau­reen Hurley was called.

“It was three weeks ago and she was fast asleep,” says Ms Hurley. “I went over and said hello. She looked up and was OK. It was about 9.15am.

“I was con­cerned about her, but they have got to want help. There are things that can be done, but does she want them?

“If she wanted ac­com­mo­da­tion and tried the coun­cil, I’m sure they could find some­thing.”

Ms Hurley stresses it is sim­ply not pos­si­ble to hand Sabina the keys to the church house.

A worker at St Alphege con­firms: “The three houses are rented by the church for staff mem­bers and the empty prop­erty will soon be oc­cu­pied.”

As­sis­tant priest the Rev Roy Mur­ray is on hol­i­day and un­avail­able for com­ment.

It’s the weird­est hell when you’re out of work and home­less Sabina Hansard

> Sabina Hansard sleeps in the door­way of a rented prop­erty for St Alphege Church, in Soli­hull

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