‘I spent nights on buses, now I’m on stage at concert for homeless’

Naomi Ackerman
The singer-songwriter became homeless at just 15 years old

A young musician who spent nights sleeping on London buses as a homeless teenager is to get a break performing in front of thousands at our charity sleep-out in Trafalgar Square.

The World’s Big Sleep Out (WBSO), which is being run in London in association with our homeless appeal, will see nearly 2,000 people spend Saturday night in the square to help raise awareness and funds to tackle the homelessness crisis in the capital.

Some 50,000 people are expected to take part in a series of events across the world, in dozens of cities, including New York, Hong Kong and Madrid.

Singer-songwriter Jecoliah Frimpong, 20, who lived in hostels from the age of 17, will be playing to her largest ever crowd as the warm-up for top artists including Brit award-winner Rag’n’Bone Man, singers Jake Bugg and Tom Walker and rock band Travis.

It is set to be an “incredible moment” for the musician from Greenwich, who got to know many night bus routes “by heart” after leaving home aged 15.

Ms Frimpong, one of nine children, had a difficult relationship with her parents, saying she just “didn’t have the space to be myself at home”.

She said: “It all just started to close in, school was not working and the support was just not there... I was sleeping at friends’ houses, on buses, in public places.

“I’d sit in specific 24-hour McDonald’s where the staff would know me. After a period of time, if I had money I would buy food and if not later in the day they would give me some food because I would just sit there.”

After the musician left home for good at 17, London-based youth homelessness charity Depaul helped her find sheltered housing for three years and complete a diploma at an Access to Music college.

She said: “When all else failed music didn’t, I was still writing and singing and listening to people that inspired me. Music … has saved me so many times.”

Two months ago she moved into her own social housing flat. She is earning money independently and the charity held mediation sessions with her family, with whom she has now reconciled.

This newspaper, with The Evening Standard, has launched a two-year appeal to help raise funds for projects that a coalition of London’s leading charities say are vital.

Three charities we are supporting, Depaul and fellow London Homeless Collective members Homeless Link and The Connection at St-Martin-in-the-Fields will receive 50 per cent of all money raised at the London sleep-out.

Today, Ms Frimpong is “proud” to be helping to raise money for Depaul by performing at the event – and to be challenging taboos about homelessness.

She said that “normally when you think of a homeless person you think of a mad raggedy situation and the unimaginable stories, but sometimes it’s just as simplistic as a household disagreement gone wrong”.

Depaul UK CEO Mike Thiedke said: “Jecoliah is one of the many examples of the potential we find within all the young people we work with.”