My life has always been very turbulent, a whirlwind of stressful and intense situations specked with parties, lots of togetherness and community spirit. Cause no one’s life is only horrific and traumatic.
When I left home at 17 I had no one and no where to go. I met up with my friend who already shared a flat with someone, where I slept on their couch for 2 weeks. One day we sat in a park with a bottle of wine and a few spliffs where we saw this tall man tie a rope between two trees and started walking on it. We were quite amazed how he did that and strung up a conversation. He was British and in his 30’s and very shy and quiet. He asked where we lived, and I mentioned I actually was homeless. He said he lived in a squat with a few other people, and one was leaving so a room would be available. He said if you are interested, come and introduce yourself and maybe they’ll be okay with you moving in. So that’s how my squatting journey began. I had no income, I was too young for benefits and quit school so somehow I needed money. I managed to get the child benefit money from my mum, which was very little, like f100,- (guilders) a month at the time. I remember often buying one bag of potatoes and a bottle of oil so I could make chips. But often I shared food with others, or went to a cheap soup kitchen in another squat. That first winter was very tough, I left home in October and in the squat there was only a big fireplace in the livingroom for heat so we had to venture out to collect firewood from the streets. We were roaming the streets a lot, to find stuff we could use, food at the market when the market closed, sometimes leftovers at shops who were friendly with us. I had to go to the laundrette to do my laundry, to the swimming pool to get a shower, but luckily we did have electricity and water which we paid for, like ‘normal’ people.
I think in this country there are a lot of misconceptions about squatting. There were in my country too. But back then, it was legal. There were strict rules like a building had to be proven to be empty for at least 1 year. So we were always scouting for empty buildings, sticking hairs on the edge of the door and the doorframe, leave it for 24 hours and come back to check if anybody had entered the building. If not, we could go in, check it out and if we liked it stay. We then had to stay inside for 24 hours, quiet as mice. If anybody would notice and call the police, we would be nicked for trespass and criminal damage. But if we could stick it out we could call the police to declare the building officially empty and they would then notify the owner. The owner could only get us out by going to court and proving to have either a building permit, a buyer, a renter or a permit to demolish. If there were no plans and the building was empty without prospects, the squatters could stay or make a deal with the owner. Sadly, the law changed and criminalised squatting somewhere after the year 2000.
I met the most colourful and diverse bunch of people during this time. There was still a lot of solidarity and a tight-knit community of misfits and drifters. I miss that a lot. I miss sitting around a fire, drinking mugs of tea with others and making music. I miss helping each other out. I miss the whole way of life, of making mend and make stuff from junk, creating homes in weird places, travelling, meeting hundreds and hundreds of others like me. But the strange thing is, I didn’t make really good friendships. Out of all those people I only still have contact with a handful, maybe 2 or 3. I feel sad about that. I feel sad that amidst all of that appearance of togetherness I still felt desperately alone.
My life was and became more and more chaotic and I felt so restless. I couldn’t settle anywhere, I moved probably more than 50 times. I drank a lot. I used drugs, a lot. I became very very depressed and I started to get psychosis. My trauma haunted me, and nearly killed me. But somehow, slowly and after 5 years of this a few things happened that really clearly signalled I had to drastically change my situation or face death. But I will talk about that another time.