Homeless mum: 'Someone set my sleeping bag on fire'
- Credit: Evelyn Simak/Geograph
A vulnerable, homeless mother of two has been targeted by yobs who set her sleeping bag on fire and some people have even offered her money for sex.
Sophie Smith, who is in her 30s, has spoken out after a string of terrifying incidents while she has been living on the streets.
She lost her home and two children two years ago on Boxing Day after finding herself no longer able to afford the bills.
Ms Smith's life quickly spriraled out of control and she suffered a breakdown and she suffers from both chronic anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Having worked as a senior support worker for young adults with autism for eight-and-a-half-years, Ms Smith gave up her job when she had kids and went on to volunteer as a teaching assistant.
"My savings quickly went and I had a breakdown," Ms Smith said.
Her two children - aged nine and seven - went into foster care and she was recently provided with a tent and sleeping bag by the Norwich Salvation Army Soup Run.
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It has proved to be a torrid lifestyle for her sleeping in doorways of vacant shops in the city.
Ms Smith said: "I get robbed and I am not used to street life. I am not a fighter and I am not very good at standing up for myself.
"As soon as people see you are weak they see you as an easy target.
"Other homeless people target me. I have been accused of being an undercover police officer. I have been beaten up and someone set my sleeping bag on fire last year. Luckily there were no injuries.
"You also get all the drunks and men rattling my tent all the time. They say things like 'do you want to earn £20'. I have been offered £500 before and said 'no go away I do not do that. Leave me alone'."
Ms Smith added that her main hope is to get a house back to live with her kids again.
She said she gets fed up with people assuming she takes drugs or is a drunk just because she is living on the streets.
How homeless people can get help this winter
Commissioned by Norwich City Council, Pathways is a collaboration between the authority and six other local organisations who work together to help homeless people and those with complex needs in the city.
St Martins Housing Trust has urged anyone sleeping rough to contact the Pathways team who provide accommodation, advice and support.
The charity runs a short break initiative where people are put in hotels on a short-term basis until more permanent accommodation can be found.
People experiencing homelessness can receive a clothing voucher redeemable at the St Martins charity shop in Anglia Square, where they can choose warm clothes and new toiletries.
Homeless people can also get a shower, hot drink and food from The Arc in Pottergate, run by the Salvation Army.
The Feed runs a community fridge and provides regular hot meals for homeless people.
St Martins' freephone number can be accessed on 0800 905 5413.