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WATCH: Extraordinary ‘secret’ finance director of Cambridgeshire County Council kept hidden

‘I’m 54 now, that is 8 years more than the average age homeless men die at’

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When he came to Cambridgeshire last year to become executive director of finance and resources at Cambridgeshire County Council, Michael Hudson retained a secret from his past that few knew about. It was not the sort of thing you would have expected to see on his CV.

But in a moving, ‘self-outing’, Mr Hudson, 54, has revealed how, for some months and whilst holding down a senior finance post in another local authority, he was homeless.

His new role at Cambridgeshire puts him in a charge of a gross budget of more than £950m a year and he clearly knows his stuff but his revelation that he found himself living out of his car, moving from laybys to housing estates to avoid ‘detection’, is, quite frankly, astonishing.

But, as he explained in an interview with CambsNews and on the night he took part in a ‘Big Sleep’ at Cambridge United Football Club to raise awareness and funds to support homelessness, finding yourself temporarily without a home is something that can happen to anyone, at any time, and even to a senior local government officer.

Michael Hudson, Cambridgeshire County Council finance director - Big Sleep Out, Abbey Road Stadium, Cambridge. ‘Homelessness and rough sleeping is never going to go away’ he says. Friday 01 March 2024. Picture by Terry Harris.

Michael Hudson, Cambridgeshire County Council finance director – Big Sleep Out, Abbey Road Stadium, Cambridge. ‘Homelessness and rough sleeping is never going to go away’ he says. Friday 01 March 2024. Picture by Terry Harris.

“We’re nearly 20 years now but it’s probably only about six years since I realised I was homeless,” he said. “I didn’t at the time.”

Mr Hudson said: “I had recently split up, was going through a divorce, and was paying maintenance for children and trying to hold down quite a tough job travelling back and forward to see the kids and just ended up sleeping in the car. That was the only option for me.

“I always remember pulling into a car park at work and a social worker saw me kind of rummaging through the boot and she actually said to me it looks as though you’ve got your whole life in that boot.

“And it was like I probably have actually, but it was only when I did a big sleepout six years ago and the guy running it was talking about ‘it’s not just the people that you see on the streets there are hundreds of thousands of people that are sheltering’  you know kind of sofa surfing scenarios and people sleeping in the back of the car and it suddenly hit me ‘Christ that’s what I used to do’”

Mr Hudson said: “I did that for about 3 months, first pulling up at laybys then pulling up in housing estates. I didn’t feel safe and yes that’s the point at which I realized I was actually homeless.”

He said: “It absolutely happened quickly. We decided to separate, and I spent the first night in a hotel. It was near the end of the month, so you know there’s never enough money for the month and I found myself with no option.

“Either I slept on the street, or I went round to a mate: I wasn’t ready to talk so I slept in the back of my car. It was a simple choice.”

So, did how he balance a responsible job, working at it all day and then returning at night to sleep in his car?

Michael Hudson, Cambridgeshire County Council finance director - Big Sleep Out, Abbey Road Stadium, Cambridge. ‘Homelessness and rough sleeping is never going to go away’ he says. Friday 01 March 2024. Picture by Terry Harris.

Michael Hudson, Cambridgeshire County Council finance director – Big Sleep Out, Abbey Road Stadium, Cambridge. ‘Homelessness and rough sleeping is never going to go away’ he says. Friday 01 March 2024. Picture by Terry Harris.

“A normal day, that’s a really good question cause actually a normal day for me started at around about 5 in the morning because I wanted to get up and get out of wherever I was,” he said. “So, if I found myself sleeping in a housing estate for safety then I wanted to get up and out, so nobody saw me.

“I’d go to work I’d kind of get the best wash I could possibly, pack stuff back in the car and then do a full day’s work and to try and work through to as late as possibly, 8 or 9 o’clock if I were not seeing the kids and then go and try and find somewhere different and drive around it.

“Sometimes it took hour hours to try and find somewhere and repeat all over again and you don’t get a lot of sleep in the back of a car. You do know you’re not the most fragrant and you’re not the most comfortable.”

Mr Hudson says he felt unable to share his plight with colleagues – and there was no one else he felt it could discuss it with.

“I didn’t share it with anybody,” he said. “I was completely embarrassed hence getting up at 5 in the morning and getting into work where I was a senior director.

“I was a director of finance at a very large Metropolitan and then city council and yes I was embarrassed to say that that was a situation I found myself in.

“I didn’t talk to anyone and that started to lead to worse mental health problems not only the difficulty of going through a divorce but not getting sleep worrying about money. It wasn’t a great time in my life.”

It is clear from our conversation that Mr Hudson can never forget what happened to him, and his passion for supporting homeless charities has developed and strengthened as a result.

“I think probably for 14 years I didn’t want to remember,” he said. “I had moved on, and I was in a relationship. I was living in a house and it’s when I did the ‘Big Sleep Out’ and Jonathan who was giving the talk mentioned about it; it just hit me like a train.

“I was fortunate that I was in an environment I could talk to people and yes it was it was harrowing at the time in terms of that realisation but yes it has helped me understand and realise and given me a real strength,” he said.

Michael Hudson, Cambridgeshire County Council finance director - Big Sleep Out, Abbey Road Stadium, Cambridge. ‘Homelessness and rough sleeping is never going to go away’ he says. Friday 01 March 2024. Picture by Terry Harris.

Ahead of the Big Sleep Out, Abbey Road Stadium, Cambridge. Friday 01 March 2024. Picture by Terry Harris.

He expects his current colleagues to be surprised by his ‘self-outing’ but has no qualms about it.

“I think it’s just coming out so it’s early days certainly,” he said. “I have had lots of support, but it’s shock it is that kind of curve I think people don’t expect and my work colleagues at the time didn’t appreciate.”

He recalled what he felt like to be homeless.

“I still dressed smartly; I still went in to do the day job. I didn’t talk about it, and I think it’s that hidden homelessness that we just don’t appreciate or realise.

“I think if this raises that profile and enables more people to talk or just ask questions if they’re in that situation then that’s why I want to speak out about this.”

Mr Hudson added: “Homelessness and rough sleeping is never going to go away.

“A quarter of a million people are estimated to be homeless at one point be that visible or hidden in any one year. That is a massive issue to tackle nationally let alone locally but doing things like the big sleepout supporting Cambridge United Foundation and Winter Comfort on nights like this can help raise awareness.

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“It can help raise funds and you know if you can give be surprised about how little a donation can really help with somebody’s mental and physical care.”

We asked if he found it difficult or possibly even frustrating when he attends council meetings where homelessness is being discussed and not everyone knows his back story or has the empathy he now possesses for those without a roof over their head.

“I think society can be dismissive,” he said. “It can be situational, and I certainly find that at times in other organisations I’ve worked for and that has been frustrating because it’s more the inaction and bureaucracy and talk rather than action.

“I think if people had to spend a night two nights longer they might just appreciate it a little bit more.”

Michael Hudson, Cambridgeshire County Council finance director - Big Sleep Out, Abbey Road Stadium, Cambridge. ‘Homelessness and rough sleeping is never going to go away’ he says. Friday 01 March 2024. Picture by Terry Harris.

Michael Hudson, Cambridgeshire County Council finance director – Big Sleep Out, Abbey Road Stadium, Cambridge. ‘Homelessness and rough sleeping is never going to go away’ he says. Friday 01 March 2024. Picture by Terry Harris.

What was he hoping to achieve from sleeping out, this time just for the one night and to support homeless charity.

“We’ve got 115 people sleeping out tonight and we have a target to raise £40,000. I think we have already got £20,000 and the night is just starting so that sponsorship can make such a massive difference here in here in Cambridge.

“But it’s also about awareness. If you’re in that situation or you know somebody that you think could be in that situation just having that conversation, reaching out to people, and wondering what you can do is important.”

He said: “Although the Big Sleep Out can never recreate what it is really like to live on our streets or have nowhere to call home, it is still humbling to take part and you do get a sense of what it is like but imagine if you had to do that every night. People don’t choose to become homeless; life happens.

“I’ve been involved with the Big Sleep Out now for 5 years and I’m a board member for a local hostel where I live. So, I’ve listened to a lot of lived experiences and the extraordinary amount of support needed to help our homeless and rough sleepers.

“I’m 54 now, that is 8 years more than the average age homeless men die at.

“Homeless people are 17 times more likely to be victims of violence and 46% have physical or mental health needs. The system is stacked against homeless and rough sleepers – to get out of the situation needs money, but you can’t get income without a fixed address.

“There are roughly nearly a quarter of a million people homeless today and it isn’t just the people on our streets.

“When I was going through my divorce I couldn’t afford, even with my role, to get a place so I lived for a few months in my car. My son went through a period in his late teens where he was out of work and sofa surfing.

“Both he and I came through that period, but we were technically homeless and there are so many people out there who find themselves, regardless of background in need of vital support at key moments in their lives. The increasing cost of living sadly means in the coming months we will need to be able to support more people.”

Finally, we asked how his son was doing.

“He’s doing good; he in a great position right now and I think it coincided at the time with my understanding of the fact that I was actually homeless I was able to relate and articulate to him as a result of that night.”

Mr Hudson also uses his experience in his voluntary role as a board member of the homeless hostel in his home area.

“I’ve got the chance to speak to so many people and hear about their experiences, their experiences of fear, their experiences of anxiety of trying to come across some of the most harrowing scenarios.

“Often people that have gone through the care system have been abused or taken to drugs. Some of these situations are harrowing for us to talk about but we must talk about them because actually that’s the only way we can raise awareness and help people.

“So yes it’s about my experiences and my family’s experiences but we’ve come through that. There are so many people still going through it and will go through it and that’s what we’ve got to be there to support those who are the most vulnerable in our society.”

Cambridgeshire County Council chief executive Stephen Moir tweeted today: “Michael Hudson is a great executive director of finance and resources.

“More importantly, he’s a genuine, compassionate and values led individual. He’s authentic in everything he does and his lived experiences make him stronger professionally.

“I’m proud to know and work with him.

“We’re all intensely proud of him and the other CCC staff that took part.”

FACT FILE

Michael, along with seven other county council colleagues, slept out on Friday March 1 as part of the Big Sleep Out at Cambridge United’s Abbey Stadium.

Michael Hudson Cambridgeshire County Council Finance Director – Big Sleep Out, Abbey Road Stadium, Cambridge
Friday 01 March 2024. Picture by Terry Harris.

People don’t choose to become homeless; life happens but you can make a difference by keeping this subject to the fore.

You can still sponsor those who slept out with all the money going straight to two local charities in Cambridgeshire who serve and work with our homeless community.

Just £10 can help provide support for shelter and food, £25 can help provide much needed medical care such as eye tests.

The county council team have already raised over £1000 for charity and donations can still be received here: Cambridge United Foundation: United for Cambridge Sleepout at the Abbey 2024 (enthuse.com)

 

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