A YOUNG woman has spoken out after surviving being doused in gasoline and dragged through a fire while sleeping poorly.
Mairead Soledad was living in Wish Park, Hove, when she was dragged out of her tent and doused with petrol while attempting to set it on fire.
The 23-year-old and her dog Solo were helped by a woman and her child, who were driving by at the time.
Mairead, who now lives in makeshift accommodation in Brighton, said that while the incident, which happened two years ago, was “terrifying”, it was the “catalyst for changing my life”.
She said: “Thank God I didn’t start a fire because the fire was quite small. I ran right out of the park and a woman in the park tried to call the police.
“As I was running down the street, a woman drove by in her car and just picked me up and took me to her home.
“From then I was put up in hostels and hotels until Covid and then when the pandemic started I was offered temporary housing where I am now.”
Mairead came to Sussex at the age of 18 from the Falkland Islands, a British surveillance area off the coast of Argentina, after becoming estranged from her family.
She moved around the county, living in Chichester, Pulborough, Crawley and Shoreham before sleeping rough in Brighton.
Mairead said the Wish Park community has been “incredibly supportive,” particularly park ranger Gerald Flanagan, who put her in touch with Karen Swift of homeless charity St Mungo’s.
She said: “Gerald really changed my life living there. He helped me charge my phone and told me I could take a shower there.
“I caught up with him last week to tell him how much I’ve changed since then and to introduce him to my new dog. It was lovely.
“I managed to get in touch with the family who also helped me and we hope to go to dinner together.”
Mairead says she is now enjoying life with her faithful Solo and new Pomeranian pooch Pretty P.
The animal lover hopes that by sharing her story, she can help change attitudes about homelessness and encourage people to offer help and support to those living on the streets.
She said: “How people live on the streets was one of the things I found the most difficult to deal with.
“I’ve never lived in luxury but I was always used to a decent standard of living before I became homeless but everyone just lumps you in as worthless.
“It was difficult and plays with the head. Nobody chooses to live like that and people just have an attitude that the individual should do something about it.
“After just a year, I accepted that my life would be like this. It’s like you become what people think of you. But most people just need a chance.”