Andrew is a Support Worker in Bristol. He draws on his own experience of 13 years sleeping rough to help others. He walks us through his journey and remembers Vince, the amazing support worker who never gave up on him. This is his story.
I was speaking to a client the other day, asking him about his time sleeping rough. He explained where he used to bed down and I said I knew it. He couldn’t understand how. I told him that I had slept rough in London for 13 years. And all of a sudden there was a little bit of connection.
In my twenties life was good. At 28 I was a home owner, I’d been engaged for years, working in sales, company car – the lot. Partying had always been a part of my life, but it felt like that was the same for everyone. I didn’t realise at the time but slowly my drinking took off.
In quite a short space of time I ended up losing my job, my fiancé left me, the company car went back and the flat was sold. I found myself with lots of money from the sale of the flat, and no responsibilities. So I just partied.
By the time I was 29 I was skint and living in a dingy bedsit. I fell in with the wrong crowd and started using drugs.
I started to move around a lot. I thought that if I went to a new town, things would change. I didn’t realise that I was taking myself with me.
I ended up homeless in London. London is a really hard place to be homeless when you’re new. You feel like just another homeless person – a statistic.
There were lots of great people that I came into contact with from St Mungo’s, but Vincent Adams stood out – he was a larger than life character. He was my support worker at quite a few hostels. He was also on the outreach team and when I was sleeping rough at Euston he used to come down and see me, take me for breakfast, and just check how I was doing.
He was always there. Every time I messed up he never judged me. His favourite saying was “when there’s life there’s hope”.
I’d been up and down so much, for so long, that if you had asked anyone they wouldn’t have believed that I could stop using drugs. But Vince thought I could, he could see something in me that I couldn’t see myself.
Vince took me on my last journey out of London to Weston-Super-Mare to a rehabilitation centre. Part of me thinks that if Vince hadn’t taken me on that train, there’s a chance I might not have got there.
A few years later I went back to the hostels to say hello to everyone there. They couldn’t believe it was me. I wasn’t the angry, desperate man that I once was.
When I was there I saw an old friend – we had slept in doorways together for years. As soon as he looked at me he burst into tears, because what I had, he wanted. Nine months later he was in rehab. Seeing me gave him this final push to do it.
Now we have great lives.
I started as an apprentice for St Mungo’s and Vince became my friend. I used to go and stay with his family. They opened their house up to me as a friend. That, now that was just priceless.
When I was rough sleeping I used to push back against Vince, and all these brilliant people at St Mungo’s. It makes me laugh because now I’m the member of staff. I can never be angry when my clients kick off, because that used to be me.
At the moment I’m supervising an apprentice. I’m hoping to, in the future, do our Steps into Management programme. I want to represent lived experience higher up in St Mungo’s to influence how we work.
The people that I’ve met on my journey with St Mungo’s – from volunteering, becoming an apprentice, working at Crisis House and now for floating support – are some of the most amazing people. They will be lifelong friends.
I don’t know what it is about people that work for St Mungo’s, they’ve just got something about them – this drive to help others.
I was asked to speak at Vince’s funeral. He died at the age of 42.
I spoke about his values, his drive, his never give up attitude. It was hard to keep it together.
I used to say to Vince, “If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be here”. He’d reply by saying, “I didn’t do anything – it was you that did all the work”.
A couple of weeks ago I saw one of my clients. I’d supported her when she was in a really bad place, using drugs. After a lot of work she agreed to go into rehab. I’d taken her all the way there, to make sure she arrived.
She walked over with a big beaming smile, she was brimming with life. She thanked me for everything I’d done. I just said, “I didn’t do anything – it was you that did all the work”.
There will always be a bit of Vince in everything I do.
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.