Woman (57) spends month sleeping in city centre park

Woman (57) spends month sleeping in city centre park

 

By Lesley Walsh

 

A BANGOR woman spent almost four weeks sleeping on a bench in the city’s Ward Park after apparently falling through the cracks in the housing system.

The petite and vulnerable woman spent her nights sleeping on a park bench under a tree to shelter from the rain and recent unseasonably cold temperatures, and her days on another bench, beside the park’s bowling green.

The 57 year-old woman, who wished to be known only as Colleen, survived on the kindness of strangers, who stopped by with warm soup and food, donating heavy coats, blankets and hot water bottles.

Colleen, a former care assistant who is now on Disability Living Allowance, endured her ordeal often in good humour describing her sleeping bench as her ‘bedroom’ and the other, her ‘living room’, before finally securing a place in a hostel in Belfast on Monday.

Her move to Ward Park followed her eviction from the nearby Tonic Fold, where it is understood Colleen had failed to abide by required standards, prompting a judge to approve her removal.

Colleen was then forced to seek accommodation at Bangor’s Premier Inn, where she stayed for just over two weeks.

She then resided at a local bed and breakfast for five weeks, where she was given some free night stays in return for her gardening skills.

Once her funds began to run low Colleen had no alternative but to seek shelter elsewhere and ended up in Ward Park.

Colleen’s near month-long stint of sleeping outdoors took place during the recent plummeting temperatures which made for autumnal weather and a great deal of rain.

When the Spectator went to talk to Colleen in Ward Park, she was in her ‘living room’, enjoying a rare glimpse of the sun. A few hundred metres away, her belongings, packed in a large suitcase and a few bags, were placed beside her ‘bedroom’ under the tree.

Taped to her suitcase was a handwritten note politely asking anyone finding the items not to take them away, along with her mobile phone number.

Colleen remained stoical as she recounted what had led to her ending up on a park bench, at the whim of the unusually inclement weather since she’d taken up residence.

She said she had been born and raised in Bangor before moving to Clough with her partner who sadly died after 26 years living together in the County Antrim village.

His death prompted her return to Bangor, living for a time with some members of her family, who were unfortunately unable to accommodate her full time.

She said that they, with the help of Assemblyman Alex Easton secured her a place in a flat in Kilcooley, only to be left feeling intimidated by the men she was surrounded by who she said were heavy drinkers and subjected her to lewd behaviour.

She then found a place in the Tonic where she enjoyed living for two years before being asked to leave.

Colleen broke down as she explained that following her stints in paid accommodation, she had ended up sleeping rough. She said she was a woman of deep faith and ‘never been nasty to anyone’ in her lifetime.

She paid tribute to a friend called Tom from the Tonic who brought her hot flasks of tea and hot water bottles regularly during her outdoor stay.

Colleen also wanted to thank members of Ward Park’s bowling team who occasionally let her sleep under the shelter of the pavilion which usually remains locked and out of bounds to people overnight.

She also expressed great appreciation for a resident who lives near the park, Liz Gilliland, who also provided her with assistance.

Sitting beside Colleen at the park bench, Liz said she had been ‘worried sick’ about the women during her period sleeping rough in the park.

Liz already knew Colleen before she started sleeping rough.

“I used to see her when I was out walking the dog and I would stop and chat with her when she was out in her garden and I would lead her back into the Fold,” she said.

She explained that Colleen informed her she had been evicted from the Tonic Fold due to antisocial behaviour.

“I became aware that she had been sleeping rough in the park for just over three weeks,” she said, pointing out that Colleen suffered from particular vulnerabilities.

She said she contacted a number of agencies to try to help find Colleen secure accommodation, including Social Services, the Housing Executive, local police, the Simon Community and the YMCA, all to no avail.

“They said because she is over 18 that she has to look after this herself,” she said, but pointed out that Colleen was not able to properly communicate on her mobile phone with officials from these agencies.

“I’m flabbergasted that a woman like her can be left on her own like this. This has really affected me,” she said, admitting she was not privy to all the details leading up to the woman’s eviction but said ‘I know Colleen and she was always pleasant with me’.