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Maria, 51, is living rough in Downham Market

Maria McGregor is sleeping rough in Downham
Maria McGregor is sleeping rough in Downham

As winter approaches could you imagine sleeping under a bush or walking miles each night just to keep warm?

This is how 51-year-old Maria McGregor is living and facing the prospect of spending a second winter on the streets.

Miss McGregor has been living rough around Downham for more than a year after losing her job and home.

While she has shown great resilience in keeping herself clean and fed, Miss McGregor is desperate to find a home in the Downham area before the onset of winter.

Miss McGregor said: “All I want is to get my life back on track, to have a job and a home.

“I am never going to get a job unless I have a home and I can’t get a home unless I have a job. I’m in a catch 22 situation.

“All I want is to have a life.”

Miss McGregor had lived in Downham for five years before moving away in 2009 to live with her brother in Diss.

She went home to Scotland in 2013 but lost her job due to a medical problem.

Last year she decided to return to her many friends in Downham but ended up on the streets after the place she was staying became too crowded.

Now she spends her nights trudging around the town with her rucksack and sleeping bag.

Her usual spots to sleep are under a bush on the A10, behind the back of Downham Town Hall or within a barn.

She said: “I’m lucky if I get five hours sleep as I’m on edge all of the time.

“I do get frightened at night walking about but I have to keep moving.

“I stayed in a bus shelter for a short time but I don’t want to go back there as there were lots of needles. But if it is cold I won’t have any option.”

Last winter, Miss McGregor was able to wear extra layers to keep some warmth thanks charity shops.

She said: “In the winter time I am scared as I went through hell last year as it was so cold.”

Miss McGregor, who also suffers from asthma and has mental health issues, has a spinal implant to help her bladder and must keep clean.

She is able to do this by using the pool in Downham and its showers.

Miss McGregor, who does claim some benefits, also eats at a local cafe.

She said: “I look after myself that way because I have to. I am woman so you keep yourself clean.

“But I can’t go on like this.”

Miss McGregor is desperate to stay in Downham and close to her network of friends.

She has asked to go on the housing list but says she is classed as a low priority as she has not lived in Downham for three years. Miss McGregor has also been receiving some legal help from Shelter on this matter.

She said: “A woman of my age should not be living on the streets. More social housing should be built.”

West Norfolk Council estimates that there are three people living rough in the district.

The council has offered emergency accommodation, including a place at a hostel in Lynn. Miss McGregor had turned down the offer due to fears it would impact on her mental health and does not wish to leave Downham and her friends.

The council also offers a loan of £1,000 to help with finding a privately rented accommodation but an estate agent told Miss McGregor has been told that £1,500 is needed.

A council spokesman said that there is a shortage of social housing and there is no temporary accommodation in the Downham but has advised to check private ads.

He said: “The private rented section is the best option. A lot of work is going on in order to help and support people to find a way to get a stable home. We hope that Miss McGregor can secure a home.”

n If you could help Miss McGregor with accommodation contact reporter Victoria Fear on 01553 817321.

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