Andrew was homeless for five years after becoming addicted to alcohol and drugs. After a relationship breakdown, he began living in the woods. He is now Service Manager of the Bournemouth and Poole Rough Sleeper team. This is his story.
Someone gave me drugs at 11
I took drugs and alcohol every day from the age of 11 all through High School. I did my GCSEs and got four without doing any revision. I don’t know how many I’d have got if I’d actually done any work!
When I was 17, I got a job on a building site driving forklift trucks. It was a big turning point because I went from earning £80 a week to £340. I had all this money to party with and started going to illegal all-night raves.
When I got to my late 20s the drugs had dropped off but the drink took over.
I had no control, the drink controlled me
I drank from the moment I got up until the moment I passed out, then I’d wake up and do it all again. I was married by then with a young daughter, but it made no difference.
I ended up in prison many times for fighting. Even there I got hold of alcohol. I’d be released, and I’d go to get more drink. I had no control over it, drink controlled me. I’d get up and drink 2.5 litres of white cider or four cans of special brew. If I didn’t drink in the mornings I’d shake violently and have seizures.
I got divorced and carried on drinking.
I lived like a hermit in the woods
After my divorce, I moved in with a woman. But when that relationship broke down, the stress was too much and one day I thought, “I can’t do this anymore.”
So, I left to live in the woods where I slept on a makeshift bed in a hollow for months. There was a garage at the end of the road where I got my alcohol. Then the money ran out so I started begging.
I’m 6’5″ so I looked quite intimidating, but people did have a go. I woke up with lots of cuts and bruises and wouldn’t know how I’d got them. I was arrested, I was sectioned, I was ordered into detox and rehab many times by courts and local authorities, but it just made things worse.
The GPs would just throw withdrawal drugs at me which didn’t help. I wasn’t mentally ill; I was desperately fighting an addiction.
With money I made from property after my divorce, I decided to go to Bali. I stayed for a year, taking drugs and drinking whisky. I was lonelier than ever – my only friend was Jack Daniels. I returned in 2008 and spent the rest of my money on detox programmes.
13 months in rehab
When I was finally ready to get better and tackle my demons, I spent 13 months in local authority rehab. During that time, I began volunteering with people who were homeless. The experience led me to apply for my job at St Mungo’s in 2017.
Half my team has been homeless
Today, I’m the manager of a 17-strong local outreach team who work every day, in all weathers, to help people sleeping rough. Last year, we worked with 554 people and helped nearly 300 people come off the streets. Around half of our team have experienced homelessness – it gives us a unique insight into the challenges our clients are facing.
We tailor our work to the people we work with, helping them find a home for good.
Today, I ran into a person who was homeless at the same time as I was and he said, “I’m incredibly proud of you.” He’s still begging, but said I’d given him hope.
I love getting up and going to work. When I look outside I see three people huddled on the streets, but I know my team will be there shortly engaging with them and helping them.
We never give up on anyone
We recently helped a local man into housing who had been sleeping rough for 22 years. He’s now living in private accommodation.
The key is persistence: talking to people, building relations, giving them hope and trust.
We work in partnership with local organisations: alcohol and drug services, physical and mental health practitioners. We’re proud of our work in Bournemouth and our commitment to the community. We never give up on anyone.
From addiction to helping others at St Mungo’s
I’ve been sober nearly 11 years. I drive home to my wife, my stepchildren and my dog – and I’ve never been happier. I’m so grateful to have my daughter back in my life after so many years, and we are enjoying rebuilding our father-daughter relationship.
I was a painful thorn in everyone’s side – now I lead a team helping others. I always said I’d never get another wife or a mortgage, and now I have both and a great job at St Mungo’s! I’m truly blessed.
Our 50 year history is filled with some extraordinary people. To mark our anniversary, we will be profiling 50 Lives throughout 2019 – a snapshot of those who have played their part in our story. You can read the stories on our website at www.mungos.org/50-lives.