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