Lee was homeless for 26 years. With the help of St Mungo’s he became determined to change his life. Today, he is volunteering with our Westminster outreach team and teaching trade skills at our Train and Trade service. This is his story.
I was homeless on and off for roughly 26 years, which I was told might be something of a record by housing staff.
I left home at 17, but I was extremely vulnerable and susceptible to abuse. I squatted in a five storey building with a group of guys but they took advantage of me, used me, beat me up and forced me to beg for them.
I managed to escape and went to a night shelter for a bit and I then moved to shared accommodation in Balham.
I was terribly lonely and never saw anyone.
I spent more of my time on the streets than in the flat on my own. I wanted to be free and actually felt safer on the streets. On the streets I was my own man and didn’t have to follow any rules.
Drink was my enemy
I left school at 16. Drink was my enemy and my biggest problem. I also took drugs – anything I could get my hands on – crack cocaine, cannabis, ecstasy, acid. On top of that I had a gambling problem. I drank from the minute I woke up until the moment I passed out. I had 10 to 15 cans of lager, or sherry or wine every day.
At times, I was drinking so much I actually begged my probation officer to send me to prison to get a break from it but they refused.
It was a vicious circle. Every time I drank heavily I ended up in prison. I was jailed nine times for drink offences, drugs and burglary. I was sent to several rehabs and detoxes but nothing worked.
I lived on a prison boat
In 2000, I was sent to Weymouth to live on a prison boat for eight months after being convicted of burglary. I think it was the only prison boat in the UK. It was for inmates getting ready for release.
Conditions were very cramped and overcrowded. I had to share a tiny cabin and shower. When I was released I started drinking again.
St Mungo’s helped me get sober
I was sleeping rough when St Mungo’s outreach workers contacted me. I couldn’t even talk to them as I was so paralytic with the drink I could barely stand. But they came back the next night and persevered with me – and thank God they did.
They put me in touch with other agencies to help me stop drinking. I was sent to detox and finally it worked. I will never drink again. It doesn’t bother me anymore. I don’t take drugs either.
I’ve been sober since 9 March 2016. That date is etched in my mind. I know if I have just one more drink I’ll be back on the streets, back in prison.
I started volunteering for St Mungo’s
I had no skills before I did the course with Train and Trade. They taught me lots of practical stuff like painting which I was really good at.
Unfortunately, I developed tennis elbow so now I teach students skills like painting, plumbing and changing locks.
I also volunteer with the outreach team in Westminster. I went out with them 14 times in one month recently helping to get people off the streets. I find it so rewarding.
I will never be homeless again
Now I work with outreach teams, I see what they’re dealing with every night on the streets.
Through St Mungo’s my life is so much better. I’ve come so far. It’s brought structure, stability and security and I never want to lose that.
I’m applying for paid jobs with St Mungo’s. I know I can do it, I have the experience, I’ve lived the life, and I’ve been there and done it, so I can share that with others. I have a one bedroom flat in West London and I’ll never go back to being homeless again.
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.