‘I would eat out of bins’ Sabrina’s Story: From homeless teenager to senior firefighter

As a teenager, Dr Sabrina Cohen-Hatton, 36, spent time living on the streets of Newport.

After her father died, she said her family become “completely poverty-stricken”, which led to her sleeping rough. She became homeless at the age of 15.

You always think it will never happen to you. We used to sleep in the doorway of a disused church until it was boarded up, I would sleep in subways until I woke up to a guy (urinating) on my sleeping bag…

There were times I was really hungry. I would eat out of bins.


Sabrina then started selling The Big Issue.

It gave me some dignity back at a time when I felt like I didn’t have any. When you live that life, you feel invisible. You feel like a ghost in society. If someone in the street falls over, people rush over to help, but there you are on the street corner with no food in your belly, nowhere to live, no clean clothes and people walk past you like you are not there.

I used to get up at 6am and spend an hour on the bus, then sell The Big Issue from 7am to 7pm. Then I would have a little bit each day to put aside. I was able to save up three months’ rent in advance, which was £200 a month, and put down a deposit on a very cheap rented flat outside Newport. It wasn’t much but it was mine. It was Big Issue money that got me my flat. And I felt very proud that I’d earned it.



When she was homeless, Sabrina said she aspired to become a firefighter.

After applying to 30 different fire services, she got a job in South Wales. Now, she is one of the of the most senior firefighters in the UK and a prize-winning academic and author.

I knew what rock bottom felt like. I knew what the worst possible day felt like. And I certainly knew what vulnerability felt like. I saw it as an opportunity to rescue other people in a way that no one rescued me. That is something that I carry with me every single day when I go to work.


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